Archive for sadness

Days: Fifteen Years Sober

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2017 by sethdellinger

Prologue

There were chandeliers.  I had rarely been around chandeliers, and even then, never so many, never so shiny.  In fact, nearly everything was shiny—the centerpieces, the candle holders, the forks and knives had glints and sparkles.  Light seemed to reflect and refract from everywhere all at once, off of balloons and from under tables, men’s wingtip shoes had tiny stars in them, large wire-rimmed glasses on women’s faces beamed chandelier light into my eyes.  The whole ballroom was like a universe.

I should have expected to be dazzled at the first wedding I ever attended.  I’d seen depictions of weddings in some movies, sure, but being only eight or nine years old, I didn’t have a lot to go on.  I knew there would be a ceremony, and they’d kiss, and then I heard we threw rice at them, oddly enough.  I must have expected there to be a party afterward, but if I did, I certainly had no idea what to expect from it.  And all this shininess—I hadn’t been prepared for that.

My cousins were there—some that I liked and some that I didn’t, but we all kept playing together, regardless.  That’s what you do with cousins when you’re a kid, after all—you play with them no matter how much you like them.  Once the pomp and trope of the adult rituals during the reception began to wear thin for us (how many times does an eight-year-old think it’s interesting to watch two grown-ups kiss? Just because someone tapped their glass?) we found our way to each other and began exploring.  We found an elevator in the lobby that we rode up and down and up and down, getting off on random floors, running to the ends of the halls.  We made a game where you tried to touch the wall at the end of the hall and get back to the elevator before the doors closed.  It wasn’t easy.  We also devised a contest to see who could, when controlling the floor buttons, go longest without the doors opening to let a stranger onto the elevator.  Again and again we were tempted to press the Emergency Stop button, but we never did.  Eventually, an employee caught onto the fact that some kids were playing fast and loose with their elevator and we got yelled at and told to stop, and, feeling like we’d just been dressed down by a Supreme Court justice, we ran out of the elevator, through the lobby, and back into the ballroom.

We played under vacant tables.  We made forts under there by using spare tablecloths and draping them over the chairs.  We moved the large potted plants out a few feet from the walls and hid behind them until grown-ups gave us weird looks.  We took M&Ms out of our gift baskets and threw them long distances into each other’s mouths.  By and large, nobody was watching us.  The adults were having a grand old time and we were left to play, to run around.  It was a unique environment for us.  Dressed in our little spiffy clothes—suspenders, skirts, ties—we felt like miniature grown-ups, doing our kid things under the shiny lights.

Occasionally, the action in the grown-up world would halt briefly while they did another of their inexplicable rituals—shoving cake at each other, somebody’s dad dancing with somebody else, and on and on.  At one point, everyone stopped what they were doing for the throwing of the bouquet, which did not sound remotely interesting to me, but my cousins ran to the crowd to watch.  I was thirsty and a little tired, so I made my way back to my family’s table to regroup and hydrate.

Nobody was there, as they were off watching something happen to a bouquet.  I pulled myself up to the table, the empty food plates still scattered around, and my mother’s purse hanging on the side of her chair, and more M&Ms in clear mason jars.  I found my Sprite and gulped it down.  It was nice to have a moment alone.  Then my eye fell upon it: the champagne flute.  Full, bubbles creeping up the sides, mysterious presences.  I glanced around and verified I was unwatched.  I took the glass, using both hands to steady it, and brought it to my lips, surprised by the blast of carbon dioxide as the carbonation hit my nose.  I barely tasted anything as I downed the beverage in one quick movement.  I sat back in my chair, looked around myself again to see if I had been observed.  In a moment, the warmth hit my stomach.  A smile crept at my lips.

 

Days of Nothing

 

It had been a hot summer. Summers are always hot, and Pennsylvania summers get that special kind of humidity working for them, but this summer had just been a rainforest ordeal. We spent every day with a thin sheen of sweat on us almost all the time, even indoors, even in the dark in the basement. It was a summer of Sloe Gin Fizzes, chain-smoking Newports, sitting on the front porch.  It was a stoop, really, but we called it a porch, although you entered through the side door, not the front.

I was staying quite suddenly and unexpectedly with two of my friends who were renting a house in the middle of the Pennsylvania countryside. And I mean Countryside. At least a 20-minute drive from where anyone might consider civilization. The view from that front porch was actual and real rolling Pennsylvania Hills, green as Ireland, constantly sun-dappled, you could see the shadows of clouds as they passed overhead, rolling down the hills like boulders. Cows and sheep on the periphery, small tree outcroppings dotting the very tops of the horizons. I make it sound kind of lovely, but in fact, it was a pretty awful time for everybody.

See, if you are from Pennsylvania, it would mean something if I told you this was in Perry County, and really far out in the middle of Perry County. How these friends rented the house, how they found it, I’ll never know. But there I found myself, immediately after giving up on a semester of college, literally walking away from classes that were over three-quarters of the way done, because I couldn’t stop drinking long enough to wake up in the morning, or do homework or even read Mark Twain books. I simply threw in the towel, and after spending a couple weeks tooling around campus aimlessly, I decided to just jump ship entirely, threw what little belongings I had into the back of my 1983 Ford Escort, and drove an hour from my college out into the middle of the rolling god-damned Hills. I did this in order to spend the summer with two people who were likewise as troubled as I was, but in different ways, and we were miserable as hell together. We’d spend entire mornings out in front of the house with a two-by-four, swatting at the huge bumble bees as they flew past us, drinking 20 ounce cans of Busch beer, trying to kill as many of those bees as we could, for no reason other than there was nothing else to do. We’d sit on our plastic lawn chairs on that porch, with our view of the field, secretly hoping that it was manure spreading day, just so that there was something to look at, something to talk about, something to complain about other than the heat and the damn bees.

We spent our nights inside, in the dark basement, lit only by multiple strings of Christmas lights, the smell of must and tobacco smoke, no television, no stereo. Just imbibing and talking, and sometimes in full silence. I spent the whole summer reading one issue of Guitar World magazine, articles I didn’t even understand, once everybody else was asleep, reading these damn guitar articles in the almost total darkness, falling asleep on a dust-covered couch. It was terrible and wonderful.

One morning, as we were sitting on our stoop smoking our cigarettes watching the distant rolling hills as though something might erupt from them, an Amish boy strolled past on the street in front of our yard, walking his ancient bike beside him. He stood and looked at us, as though he were seeing something for the very first time, some true curiosity. Thinking we were some sort of cultural emissaries, we approached him and struck up a conversation. I can’t remember now what was said between us, what inane questions we must have asked in the name of science, but after a 20-minute conversation, he went his way and we went back to the stoop, thinking we had just crossed some cultural divide. I can’t be sure what we said, but I know who I was back then, so I know I was an asshole.

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In my early twenties there was a short time period when I stayed with my mother in a small apartment she was renting in the small Pennsylvania town of Dillsburg. This was during a time when she went on frequent extended trips for her job, so even though it was a place where I wasn’t paying any rent, I would find myself with my own apartment for a couple days at a time, here and there. Living the kind of life I was living then, which is to say, mildly indigent, alone time was a fairly sacrosanct rarity. On these times when she was gone, I would wake up on the couch, still mildly dizzy from my stupor the night before, find some water to drink, and commence sitting there, absorbing cable television, mixing large amounts of Diet Coke with larger amounts of cheap gin, chainsmoking generic menthol light cigarettes until the whole room was suffused with a haze as if it were packing material. Somehow having that apartment to myself, and enough booze and cigarettes and food I hadn’t paid for to last me through a couple days, felt like I had a luxury a room on a cruise liner. I would crank up the air-conditioning, raid her collection of compact discs, listen to Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole” over and over again at an incredibly high volume. One such night, after a lengthy day of solo debauchery, I found myself inexplicably out in the parking lot of the apartment complex, wandering aimlessly, smoking my cigarette with a gin and Coke in a supersize McDonald’s cup. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly I heard from behind me someone yell my name. It took me awhile to realize what I was witnessing, but it was one of my more lengthy roommates from college, suddenly here in this parking lot, 45 minutes from the town we went to school in. At this point, I must have been out of college for about two years and hadn’t heard from him since (this is pre-Facebook and even pre-MySpace). I couldn’t believe my eyes! After getting over both of our initial confusions, I learned that not only did he live in the same apartment complex, but he lived with a man that we were also roommates with. The three of us had shared an apartment for about a year in college, and now they were living together and working in the town of Dillsburg, while I was mooching off my mother in the same apartment complex! It was almost too much to handle. Excited for the reunion, we both walked into their apartment, and sure enough, there was the third roommate, and he was just as shocked as us! We spent about half an hour catching up on what we had done since school, and then sat there in a kind of dazed boredom. We had nothing to talk about. It hadn’t been that long ago we were in college, pulling pranks, making silly movies, running all over the town like young people who would never die, would never have a problem in the world. But now just a few years later here we were, clearly at different crossroads. We sat in silence and watched a movie, and then I left and never went back there again.

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I don’t really remember how it happened, but I know for a fact that once, stone drunk, I found myself walking down the Carlisle Pike in the middle of night, just past the 81 North entrance ramp, headed away from Carlisle. I had just past the entrance ramp when I saw a tractor-trailer pulled over on the side of the road, presumably for the driver to sleep there for the night. None of the lights were on and the engine was off. I thought to myself, ‘I could just roll underneath a truck right there and sleep for the night. I could just lay under there, be sheltered from view and the wind, look up at the underside of that trailer, let this drunkenness and tiredness wash over me, and sleep there for the night.’ And I did roll under that truck, and I looked at the underside of it. I put my hands behind my head and stretched out in the gravel parking lot. I laid there for a little while, I have no idea how long, but even in my drunken stupor, and as low as I was in every aspect of life at that moment, even I knew this was a bad idea. I rolled back out and kept on walking, and I have no idea where I went.

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Time is a sad, dense fog over a sea, and places are lighted buoys.  The people?  I don’t know, maybe they’re boats, or fishes.  The days stretch out like dreams in a desert.

 

Days of Something

 

Just a few months after getting sober, I found myself living back in Pennsylvania, after a short stint in New Jersey.  I had moved in with a friend of mine who had a spare bedroom. I got my old job back, the same job cooking greasy diner food for a company that kept giving me chances.  I would come home everyday and see some of my friends there, hanging around this house I had moved into. Sometimes playing music, or fiddling with the communal telescope, or playing board games.   A few weeks into this living arrangement, I decided that I was going to go out that night by myself.  I ended up going to a movie, “Million Dollar Baby”, and it was a good movie, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I’ll start watching good movies.’  I walked out of the theater, and it was a late showing, and it was winter, so it was dark and frigid everywhere, and I was the only one in the parking lot, and it suddenly dawned on me that I could do anything I wanted. I wasn’t a slave to anything like I had been before. Nothing drove me to a bar or a convenience store to get a fix. Nothing told me I had to be somewhere that I could fall asleep anytime soon. I didn’t have to work in the morning. I didn’t have anybody who knew where I was or was expecting me somewhere. I walked across the frigid parking lot to the adjacent Walmart, bought a Butterfinger candy bar and a Red Bull, walked back to my car, and drove into the countryside, smoking cigarettes, laughing my ass off at freedom.

 

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Philadelphia is a great city, but there’s nothing special about it in the winter. It becomes winter just like every place else becomes the winter: slowly, and then all at once. My first winter in the city was also the first winter I’d spent anywhere without a car. During the summer I had learned to get around by riding my bike and walking, and was just getting pretty good at it when the gradual winter hit all of a sudden. It was cold and it was windy, but didn’t snow for the first few months, and then one day, a day that I also happened to have off work, the sky opened up and dumped down about eight inches. It was a very different experience than my previous winters elsewhere, where you might go outside and walk around, do some shoveling, maybe go see a few of the local landmarks covered in the fluffy cliches. In a densely packed urban area that stretches out for miles and miles in any direction, and where local landmarks are a dime a dozen but breathtaking beauty might be a little scarce, I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with myself, other than sit on my couch and watch Netflix. Eventually I decided to just bundle up, put on some heavy shoes (since I never really am in the habit of keeping boots around) and venture out into the snow and see what happened. I started walking through the streets of my South Philly neighborhood, unplowed, unshoveled, the houses squished up against each other like sandwich bread, snow building up in the trashy pedestrian alleys between them, choking the tops of open the trash cans, pawprints sometimes the only sign anyone had been down a sidewalk.  And I kept walking and walking, taking note how it was different than my previous experience, and also ways in which it was similar, compare and contrast, compare and contrast, that is essentially how I Live every moment of my life. One experience must always be similar or different from previous ones; otherwise, how do you measure anything?  Eventually the neighborhood started to change as I kept walking, buildings got farther apart, the roads got wider, the streets were starting to be plowed, cars started moving around, the city seemed to wake up. I started passing people on the street and there was an air of conviviality, of shared experience. Everyone was saying hello, commenting on the snow, and it wasn’t just what people were saying, but the attitude, the feeling, like we were all finally together, not that we were undergoing any major hardship, but just that the presence of something so different, something so sudden, almost held us together like a web. Connection.  Eventually I realized I was closer to Independence Mall, which is the cluster of extremely significant historical sites in the city, than I was to home, so I just kept on walking. I arrived behind Independence Hall probably an hour and a half after leaving my house, still trudging through almost a foot of snow, surprised to see that there were a few people milling around, but only a few, much less than the hundreds and hundreds that crammed into this park in the summer months. I circled the building, taking note of what the roof looked like covered in snow, imagining it would have looked the same to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson when it snowed in the late 1700s. I crossed Chestnut Street, which is directly in front of Independence Hall, my feet not quite hitting the cobblestones, but still feeling the unevenness of the walk, as the snow impacted into the cracks around the cobblestones, as it surely has done to other foot travelers for centuries. I trudged across the open space in front of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell to my left, taking note that it was still open, the Park Service still there and operating, but I didn’t see a soul in line to see the famed bell. I kept on going, heading towards the visitor center, with its bright glass interiors, newly built restrooms, shiny gift shop and concession stand. I often used to stop at the visitor center in the summer, as I was riding my bike around the city, for its quick and easy access to a restroom and bottled water.  As I swung open the heavy glass and stainless steel doors, it was clear to me that everyone inside the visitor center was surprised to see me, not because of anything about me, but simply because I was a human being. I was literally the only non-employee in this entire visitor center. It’s amazing what snow does to history tourism. Despite the fact that it was winter and snowing, I was sweating greatly, and was glad of the opportunity to take my coat off, breathe a little bit, stomp the snow out of every crease and crevice. I was thirsty and hungry, as I didn’t leave the house with the intention to walk halfway across the city, so I went straight to the concession stand, got me a bottle of water, a hot coffee, and some sort of breakfast sandwich.  I sat alone in the bright, metal cafeteria, my belly growing content as I fed it.  I took note that outside, it had begun snowing again, and heavier this time.  It was quiet in the visitor center.  I was far from home.

 

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This day started very early. I woke up around 4am not knowing what I was going to do with the day, but knowing that I wanted to wake up early enough to have a really thorough day, if you know what I mean. I was living by myself in Erie Pennsylvania, in an apartment, one bedroom, on the second level of an old house that was nearing dilapidation, but still teetering on the edge of respectability. It was smack-dab in the middle of summer, and waking up at 4am, the whole apartment was already laden with a heat, an oppressive second floor apartment kind of heat; a thin layer of sweat somehow on everything you looked at. I rolled out of bed, made myself a latte on my proudly-acquired home espresso machine, and set about pondering what to do with such a lengthy, summery kind of day all to myself.  I took a long, overly hot shower while the local morning news played on the television which I had crammed into my tiny bathroom. I stayed in the shower for the whole newscast, mind mostly blank. After the shower, while air drying mostly to cool off, I randomly selected a DVD from my bloated collection, and came up with “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, a movie that I don’t know how it ended up in my collection and no longer resides there, but at the time, a mindless comedy seemed just the ticket. I laid on my couch and let the Steve Carell comedy wash over me. Having gotten up so early that an immense amount of day still laid stretched out before me, even after my lengthy ablutions. What to do? Living by one’s self for so long, and so far from everyone you know, turns days and 31316_1458245861882_8379455_nmornings into quiet studies of one’s inner mechanics, and if you linger too long without plans, your cogs and belts begin to make a lot of noise. Suddenly it hit me: Niagara Falls. I’d been living relatively close to Niagara Falls for almost a year at this point, and it was always something bouncing around the periphery of what I wanted to do, but I never quite made it there, never quite made that my actual plan. Almost the moment that it struck me, I bounded off the couch, went to my computer to MapQuest the directions, threw on some clothes and some essentials into a backpack, and I was out the door.  I don’t remember much about the drive, although certainly there had to be a drive. It was close but not incredibly close, probably something like an hour and 15 minutes. A decent trip, but then again, much closer than almost anyone else in the world lives to such landmark. I remember having trouble figuring out where to park when I got close to it, the town itself surrounding it not exactly being incredibly helpful with instructions.  Finally I did get my car parked, and walked across a large grassy mall, the sound of the falls quite distinct, just like you expect the sound of Niagara Falls to be: thunderous, droning, like a white noise that comes from within.  I remember hearing the falls, I remember a large grassy area you had to walk across to get to it, but I don’t remember actually arriving at the falls.  In fact, the order of what I did that day and the specifics of how I did it, are lost in the labyrinth of my brain. I did the touristy things, I rode the boat, I walked up and down the path alongside the falls, I wore the poncho they provide you. I took selfies on the boat, all by myself, surrounded by revelers and families and church groups. After doing the requisite attractions, I found myself walking around the grounds, reading the historical markers, interpreting the interpretive maps. I noticed that there was a small landmass called Goat Island, out of the middle of the river, one of the features that gives the Falls that look, where it is divided occasionally, not one big solid Falls. It was accessible quite easily via a pedestrian bridge across the river, so I went out there, reading the Wikipedia entry on my phone as I went, the long and somewhat interesting history of the island, its ownership and various names. I arrived on the island to find a sweltering patch of grass, the heat dense with liquid, the roar of the falls now like a white noise outside myself, like a curtain descending. The island itself was no larger than a small park, and trees lined the northern edge, so that one couldn’t actually see the land fall away at the end.  I had the island entirely to myself. Of course the only thing to do on an island like that is to walk toward the edge. Walking through the grass I was assaulted by bugs everywhere, insects nipping at my legs, bouncing off my knees like miniature Kamikazes. The closer and closer I got to the river, the more amazed I was that there were no protections of any kind in place. One expects to find some sort of railing here, some warning signs, maybe even Park Rangers or something. But no, the island just walks right up to the river, and right up to the falls, anyone with dark designs would be in no way dissuaded.  The design of the island makes it challenging to walk right up to the falls, but instead it is very easy to sit at a clearing about twenty yards away from the actual precipice. I took my backpack off and sat in the grass, and looked out across the Niagara River, just beginning to get a real good head of steam up, just beginning to get its little whitecaps and wavelets, the water not knowing it was about to fly.  The heat washed over me, the insect buzzing began to mesh with the white noise of the falls, it all became a hot buzzing constant, I laid my head on the grass and sunk in, sunk down into the dirt, I was so far from home, and for a moment, I had no idea where I was, or maybe even who I was.

 

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“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for something or someone to show you the way.

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun!”

‘Time’, by Pink Floyd

 

Days of Everything

 

It was a cold night, but not too cold, which was fortunate, because we had to park very far away from the arena. I unbuckled Boy from his car seat and heaved him into the air, bringing him next to my cheek to give him a kiss in the crisp evening air. “This soccer game?” He asked. “Yes,” I told him. “This is the big building I told you about.” I sat him down and stuck out my hand for him to grab, as we strolled quickly through the immense parking lot together. He had lots of questions. He kept calling it football, which was interesting, I thought, since most of the world referred to soccer as football, but he couldn’t possibly know that, could he? Most of his questions weren’t really about the sport we were about to go watch, but the building it was in. How could a building be so big that you could play soccer inside of it? How tall was it, was it taller than the telephone poles? Taller than our house? Will there be snacks? Soft pretzels? I’ve become accustomed to the constant barrage of questions at this point, pulling from deep within me a patience I honestly did not think I possessed.  Not that this patience is without limits—but at any rate, I seem to have more than I thought.  I suspect a toddler will prove this to be true of most anyone.

I was surprised by the patience he displayed as we waited in a long line to buy tickets. It seems every day, he is making leaps and bounds, growing in things like patience, understanding, and empathy. Which is not to say he’s still not a little ball of emotions that doesn’t know how to act, just maybe a little less so than a few months ago or a year ago. He’s becoming much more of a companion as opposed to a force of nature to wrangle and watch. While for the most part, time with Boy is still all about teaching, there are moments now of truly just being.  And “just being” with a little guy like boy is more magic than I’m accustomed to.

Finally, tickets procured, we entered the concourse, looking for our section. I hadn’t studied the arena map extensively, and had chosen seats in the section on the complete opposite side of the concourse, so we had to walk past countless souvenir stands and snack bars, him wanting desperately to stop at each, and also wanting to enter into each section as we passed, with me constantly trying to tell him that it wasn’t much farther, not much farther. But through it all, he didn’t freak out or melt down or cry, just implored me strongly. Finally we came upon our entrance to the arena, and I picked him up because I knew the stairs were going to be steep and he was probably going to be shocked by the sight of walking into the big room. Carrying him on my side, we entered the arena proper, and although an indoor soccer field lacks the nebulous breathtaking quality of a baseball field, the sudden shock of green and the expanse of a sudden cavernous room had its desired effect on the countencance of Boy, which is to say, it produced a certain amount of awe. After pausing to allow him to soak it in, we climbed up the steep steps, to find our seats. We were all alone in our section, something I had to ask the ticket man to do, in case it did not go very well. Boy was beyond excited to sit here. He was very into his seat, enamored with the idea that the number on it matched  the number on his ticket, and in this enormous room, this seat was his and his alone. He was not restless as I had feared, his eyes trained on the action on the field. I would steal sidelong glances at him, see his eyes glued to the action, his head swiveling as the ball bounced back and forth, his complete concentration and immersion something only possible in the earliest years of life, and during a first exposure to things; the sights and sounds meshing with dawning understanding, realization writ large across his face. He would sometimes stop his concentration to ask questions about the goalies, which he called The Goal Guys, their different colored jerseys causing him no end of confusion. Later, as he was able to again float back into our world, he would watch me for cues whenever the arena sound system would play the tropes of modern sporting events: the “Charge!” song, the “De-Fense!” chant, and on and on. He saw and understood there was an audience participation element and he wanted to learn.  I would raise my fist and yell “Charge!”, glancing over to see him mimic it, his tiny voice bursting forth its own “Charge!”  This moment, especially, nearly crippled me with emotion.

He paid close attention to the game and stayed quite interested for well over an hour and a half when he started to fall asleep on my shoulder. I told him I thought it was time to go, and he protested quite strongly, saying he didn’t want to miss anything. And I kept giving in, saying we could stay, and then he kept falling asleep again, until eventually I picked him up, went up the stairs to the upper concourse, and told him he should get down and walk around and look at all the empty chairs, all the sections without anybody in them. The arena was quite empty, in fact, especially once one got up to the upper reaches. We got to a very high section, a corner section so high up you could almost touch the roof in a few of the spots, and as we emerged into it, it became clear that it had not even been cleaned out or looked at after the preceding weekend’s Motocross event in the arena. Everywhere there was trash, even half-eaten food and some beer cans on their sides. It was an astonishing array of trash and smells to walk into amid what appeared to be an otherwise normal arena. It was immediately too late for me to backtrack and take him out of this section, he was much too interested in the hows or whys this could have happened. I explained as best I could that they assumed they would not sell any tickets in this section for the soccer game, so they must be waiting to clean up from the Motocross. He did not want to walk around the section, but he also didn’t want to leave. I picked him up and we watched the soccer from way high up near the ceiling, looking down on all that old trash and beer cans, until he looked at me and told me he was ready to go home. I felt that I had a companion here, a little guy who I could teach and learn from, who was now going to be interested in things, who was present with me.

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It wasn’t too long ago that we had a little get-together for Boy’s birthday. My Love’s father was there—and let me tell you, I like Love’s father so much it’s nearly criminal–as well as both of my parents and my paternal grandmother. My parents have been divorced for quite a few years, and yet they get along like the best of friends, and there was my dad’s mother, chatting it up with his ex-wife, all while boy ran around and told everyone he loves them all the time, and climbed on everybody, and climbed on me, while I held Loves hand, while the room was full of talk and laughter, while there was warmth everywhere, and everywhere I looked there was future, future, future.

 

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My love and I put on our light spring jackets and walked into the crisp evening. Just the two of us, we interlocked our hands, and headed down the street toward Midtown. It is one of the benefits of living where we do, that usually, given the right weather and the right child care situation, we can walk to some of the places that we like to spend time together. This night it was simple: we were going out to eat. It was one of the last walkable nights of the year, and we knew it. The cold was setting in, soon we would be driving everywhere and stuck inside like prisoners.  So tonight, we knew, was a walking night.

There was a very popular and artsy restaurant in the middle of Midtown, which somehow we still had not made it to. Recently they had started serving a very popular veggie burger, that all of our friends were talking about, and we still hadn’t tried. It had been on our list for weeks.

The thing about taking a somewhat lengthy walk with the person that you love is that it forces conversation you don’t normally have inside the house or perhaps in a moving car. You see things that you don’t normally see, are reminded of things you might only see or think of by yourself, you’re moving at an interesting pace, a different speed. I love holding hands and walking with my love. I love the way her hand feels, I love being connected to her physically in that way, I love being able to look at her face from the side so often. I love being able to point out things, and have her point out things to me, elements of our neighborhood that we only see when we are walking the dog by ourselves.  I love kissing her outside. Many people spend most of their lives in relationships and begin to take things like this for granted, maybe even very early on in life, they assume they will have a companion in this form. Having spent so long single, small things like holding hands, walking down the street, these things never seem anything other than magical to me. My love thrills me.  Literally every single thing about her. It’s electric.

Twenty minutes later we found ourselves the only customers in the artsy eating establishment, it being only five o’clock. We were talking about the art on the wall, the interesting sculptures, the funny man who kept looking at us askance from inside the kitchen. We talked about the interesting ordering system the restaurant used, the haphazard way salt was placed on some of the tables but not others, we talked about our days, we held hands and looked at each other. Sometimes we didn’t say anything and that was lovely in its own way. When you know someone is your true partner, being in their presence is a constant salve.

The food came and it was delicious, just as delicious as everyone says it is was, and it was fantastic to share a meal with someone who shares so many of my worldviews, who has the compassion in the same places I do, love and freedom in the same proportions, to share a meal with a woman who has taught me so much. As I was finishing off my Diet Pepsi, stealing glances at this woman, I kept thinking some of the same thoughts I come back to all the time.  How I waited so long to find her.  How, when I did find her, I couldn’t and still can’t believe how perfect she is.  How my journey to find her wasn’t about me, or even the journey, but it was about her, about us.  How I still learn about her every day and she’s such a delicious mystery.  How she fits so well.  I looked at her as I sat there, finishing my Diet Pepsi, and I said to her the only thing one can say, given the unbearable weight of the world:  I can’t believe you’re finally here.

 

***************************************************************

The days, good or bad, really do just stretch out like deserts, uncountable deserts, again and again and again.  Some, you find, contain nothing: plodding marches under a bored sun.  But sometimes, they are filled up, filled with everything you ever dreamed, brazen neon signs of days, confetti and love love love.  I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to figure out how to keep them filled up.  I want the days of everything, forever.

Have Yourself a Melancholy Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 24, 2016 by sethdellinger

For many years, I have posted the below clip of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to social media around the holidays.  It is far and away my favorite Christmas song.  For the decade-plus that I spent living and mostly being alone, the melancholy twinned with optimism in the song struck a special chord within me.  The song seemed to harken to a nostalgia of lovely, warm, joyous holidays, while acknowledging the fundamental hardship of life–of being alone, of losing track of people, or long, dark, cold winter days and memories that slide through your fingers (please note I refer here solely to the original lyrics made famous in this Judy Garland version, not the bastardized, senselessly happy remakes to come after it).  Today, I played it in the background while passing a lovely lazy day with Karla and I immediately began to choke up; the song was a companion in melancholy with me for so many years, the tears came like a Pavlovian response.  Of course, life is happy beyond my wildest dreams, exquisitely so–but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of melancholy.  My love, the boy, and our dog make life glorious–but there are still long, dark, cold winter days, and friends I’ve lost touch with, and memories that slide through our fingers like the water in the swimming pool on Parsonage Street when my sister saved me from drowning when I was six years old.  Someday soon, we all will be together–if the fates allow.  Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

Merry Christmas everybody!  Life truly is grand–melancholy is the proof of it!

Snow Angels in the High Grass

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2014 by sethdellinger

Once, many moons ago, I spent a week living on the couch of some people I barely knew in a small town I had never spent much time in, with too little money and nothing to slow a march of days that seemed to speed by while also being interminably long.  It was September, and each morning and late afternoon a wind would crawl down from the sloping Appalachians and swirl through the wide valley, sifting and reshaping the clouds.  By early afternoon, the sun would begin to set, the lights of distant truck stops making shadows of the nearby hills.

I spent much of the week walking through the unfamiliar neighboorhood, trying to imagine what it would be like to make a life there, behind that fence, in that shed, down that crumbling walkway.  This wasn’t an unusual pursuit, since at the time I was a stranger to adult life everywhere I went, no matter where I laid my head at night.

I had come to this temporary situation after failing to please the last people I had been staying with, and I had come to those folks after failing to please the people before them.  I was now occupying one corner of a dingy living room in a second story efficiency that smelled like dogs despite there being no dogs.  I followed the kind of schedule only the truly underemployed or severely addicted can devise.  Each morning, I would walk to the corner greasy diner that had become my office.  In the evenings I would wander to the pond on the outskirts of town and read. In the evenings I’d sit in the silent dark and write down individual titles to my sleeping dreams from the night before, scribbling details on the insides of book covers and the backs of ATM receipts.

The days came and went like half-remembered tremors.  It got uncharacteristically warm for a few days.  I laid down in the thigh-high grass in a farmer’s field one afternoon and pretended to make a snow angel, but nothing happened.  I remember the buzzing of the insects, and the precise smell, and the feel of the heat on my face which made my outside feel the opposite of my inside, which was dark, frigid, and dying.

It would be interesting, if someone were to make a movie about my life, if they just made it of this single, listless, seamlessly depressing week, leaving the viewer to wonder what could possibly have come before, and be anxious for what was to come after, and then the credits roll, and they never know.  Just leave them with the image of this drunk, solitary, silent 22-year-old, making snow angels in the high grass.

Drawing E.T. at the Kitchen Table

Posted in Memoir with tags , , on June 11, 2014 by sethdellinger

I didn’t want to go to work this morning. Not that I normally dread going to work, or don’t like my job, but this morning for some reason I just really didn’t want to go in. It was an unusual day where I was faced with a few hours in the early morning of being awake, before going to work. And I was sitting in my house, just thinking how much I’d rather be doing other things today, how much I did not want to go do something that, although I don’t hate it, has very little to actually do with me, with who I am or what I like.  Then suddenly I had a memory, a memory I haven’t dwelt in or spent time with for many years now.

It was the morning before I went to school for the first time. The morning before I went to kindergarten.  Obviously, this memory’s not exceptionally clear or vivid, not chockablock full of details. It’s a memory of a moment really, and a feeling.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, at the old house in Newville, with the paisley wallpaper and the smell of the outdoors and old appliances and corn husks and cigarette smoke.  There’s a feeling of dread. I’d known for days ahead of time that this was coming, but somehow I still thought there would be a way to avoid it, get out of it.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, and I am drawing on a piece of paper. The picture is of ET, the Extraterrestrial, and there’s a big word balloon, and in it is just repeated the letters E.T., over and over again. This is the sort of thing I did with my days before I was forced to go to school. I drew things, created little moments, characters, got lost in my own universes. Although I was exceptionally young and naïve, and I realize I may be having a revisionist memory, I swear that I knew in that moment at the table that nothing would ever be the same. I wasn’t just being made to go to school for the first time, I wasn’t just losing my golden dreamy life alone with my mother on summer days, I was losing everything, forever.

Although I could be creative for the rest of my life, and get lost in myself, and create universes on my off time, the world was never going to be mine again, not like it had been during those first few years of life. I sat at the kitchen table, feeling a dread and sadness beyond compare, drawing my ET, hoping I was wrong about the inevitability of every damn thing in the world, and I remember begging my mother to let me stay home. I don’t remember what words I used, and I don’t remember what she said back, but obviously there was nothing either of us could do. The tide of adulthood sweeps everybody into its wake. That is what I remembered when I was sitting on my couch this morning, and I swear to God, I almost wept. Then I got up and went to work

Hoffman Film Fest, Day Two

Posted in Hoffman Film Fest with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2014 by sethdellinger

I first saw “Jack Goes Boating” in the dead of winter, when I was living alone in Erie, PA.  I wasn’t just living alone, but far, far from all my family and friends.  I lived there for two years, and for the most part, it was a very solitary existence.

Anyway, like I said, it was the dead of winter.  For some reason, this little unknown arthouse flick was playing in the “dollar” theater, the run-down piss-smelling 6-house theater that literally cost just one dollar to get into.  I’d been waiting withphoto some excitement for the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I doubted I’d get to see it in Erie, where movies like that typically didn’t play.  I was taken quite aback when it showed up at the dollar theater.

I went to the latest showing possible, on a weeknight, to do my best to avoid other humans.  Frequent readers of my blog will know that I don’t shy away from discussing this aspect of my personality: I love people, but I’d rather they be somewhere else.  I’m often unhappy about this part of myself, but I’m also much happier alone.  So.  Go figure.

I ended up in the theater completely alone.  That movie theater made one dollar off that showing, not counting my enormous Coke Zero.  And the movie that unfurled before me set me ablaze, all alone in that stinky theater at 10 o’clock on a probably Tuesday in the grip of deepest winter.

It’s really just a love story.  On paper, it’s a well-told, dramatic love story about broken people getting together.  But the way Hoffman made that film grabbed something further inside me than the desire to be loved.  The way he played his character and the tone he set for the entire film spoke to me about the deep oceans we all are, the blankness I feel within myself, and the wide gulf that exists between people, even when your connection feels intense.  It spoke to my loneliness, and it made me question my self-imposed isolation, so far from those who loved me.  Although many and arrayed forces conspired to eventually get me to move to Philadelphia (closer to many loved ones but still comfortably far enough away from most of you to say, maybe next month, or if only I lived closer), it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that “Jack Goes Boating” set my mind wandering and wondering if maybe I didn’t need just a little less isolation.

As happened many times when I lived in Erie, I walked out of the movie theater that night to a desolate, nearly-empty, locked-in-ice parking lot, with nobody to talk to about the movie.  I was ok with that.  Most people don’t know how to talk about movies.  But this drive home was a little different.  For this one night, the hole inside of me bothered me.

Please watch this:

Wants

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on September 6, 2013 by sethdellinger

The pot of gold at the end of this blog entry is yet another of my “artsy-fartsy” videos; I like to warn you guys about them because I don’t want to dupe any reader into watching something they ultimately won’t enjoy.  But, while I normally just put these things out into the world with minimal explanation and hope for the best, I thought this time I’d talk about the video a little bit first.

The main propulsion of the video is one of my favorite poems, “Wants”, by my absolute favorite poet, Philip Larkin.  Larkin was an extremely cynical, sad poet who tackled topics just about anyone else would be afraid to touch.  His poem “Wants” (which I have included in full after the video) is ultimately about this idea: everyone—everyone–to some degree, craves solitude and, ultimately, death.  That is putting it bluntly.  A more delicate way to put it is that, running underneath all of our everyday lives is a desire to experience absolutely nothing, to be completely alone, and to drink of what Larkin calls “oblivion”.  This is something I understand.  I am not suicidal (although I’ve certainly gone through suicidal phases in my life) and I am happy, but still, from time to time, an urge hits me: wouldn’t it be fine to not exist anymore?  Wouldn’t it be great to wake up to nothingness?  In Larkin, I’ve found a man who felt the same way (and who thought all of you did, too.  I’m not sure if I agree.  My video asks you the question of whether you agree).

So, I wanted to make a video highlighting “Wants”, but I wasn’t sure where to start.  I knew I wanted spend the time in the video thinking about other human beings, and what is going on in their private worlds, and whether they crave oblivion, like Larkin thought they do.  And so, as I was walking on the streets of Philadelphia a few days ago, I simply pulled out my camera and started filming people.  Just…filming people.

It is mostly just me passing people on the street.  Ultimately, by itself, very visually uninteresting stuff.  But when juxtaposed with the poem and the music (we’ll get to that soon), it is my intention to transport the viewer to a new way of seeing these people, force a more complicated or nuanced perspective of them, which would, in turn, ideally have the viewer look in upon themselves with new insight.  You know, the ultimate aim of all art (yes, I’m considering this to be art despite using someone else’s poetry and music, simply by my decision to bring these disparate pieces together).  Some of the shots of people are quite different than others: some suggest a subject for the viewer to follow or focus on, while other shots make no suggestions, leaving you to find your own focus, follow your own curiosity (after which you might ask yourself why you chose to watch the person you did).  Some shots shy away from having my subjects realize they are being filmed, while others acknowledge the subject, and they have clear moments of recognition that they are being filmed; for me, this moment of transition from voyeurism to an open exchange flipped the shot on its head and opened new layers of exploration.

The song I chose to accompany the video is, admittedly, not a song most of my readers would choose to listen to.  It is a long, dark, brooding instrumental by post-rock grandfathers Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  The song is called “Mladic”.  The title is a reference to Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb ex-military leader accused of war crimes…including genocide (ie, bringing a massive amount of people to a state of oblivion).  It is also, no matter how you pronounce it, certainly a sideways play on the word “melodic”, which is not one of the first words you would use to describe the song.  The song ebbs and flows and contains many sections that elicit varying tones of emotion and levels of anxiety, which seemed perfect for the viewer to internally explore the depths of Larkin’s poem and its implications.  The song begins with a looped audio of people talking over a radio, “With his arms outstretched.”  “With his arms outstretched?”  “Do you see him?”  “Shoot.”  Although the band, being as media-unfriendly as ever, won’t tell anyone what it is, it is believed to be perhaps the words spoken by Serbian security forces upon Mladic’s arrest in  Serbia in 2011.  I must warn you, this song is not happy, and the video and the poem are of a dark bent.

The poem is two stanzas in length, the first stanza dealing more with the desire to be “alone”, the second more with the desire for “oblivion”.  I have a long pause between the readings of the stanzas in the video (I personally read the poem) in order to allow the theme to build as well as to keep the poem the center of the piece  throughout.

I hope you like it!

“Wants” by Philip Larkin

Beyond all this, the wish to be alone:
However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards
However we follow the printed directions of sex
However the family is photographed under the flag-staff –
Beyond all this, the wish to be alone.

Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs:
Despite the artful tensions of the calendar,
The life insurance, the tabled fertility rites,
The costly aversion of the eyes away from death –
Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs.

My 7th Favorite Song of All-Time

Posted in 100 Favorite Songs with tags , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by sethdellinger

is:

“Rearviewmirror” by Pearl Jam

No song in my life has meant as much to my sobriety—and hence my continued existence—than “Rearviewmirror” (also known as RVM) by Pearl Jam.

RVM is a song with lyrics that are vague, but are about the narrator overcoming an abusive (or at the very least, very shitty) relationship of some kind.  Eddie Vedder’s intention with these lyrics was almost certainly to convey the triumph over abuse by either a parent or a romantic partner, but thousands of people the world over feel a deep connection to the song, as everyone in the world has some bullshit in their past that once sucked, but they feel they have conquered it.

When I was still a drinking man, I already had a connection to the song: the woman who had broken my heart was the focus of the song’s energy.  I didn’t have a good reason for hating her—she just didn’t love me like I loved her, but it sucked a lot, anyway—but I latched onto the song’s air of “fuck you, I’m better off” and broke a lot of shit in my garage while I was wasted and this song blared.

Later, after I got sober, I was listening to this song sometime during the first few weeks of sobriety, when it occurred to me the lyrics worked perfectly if I made the antagonist alcohol (or alcoholism, if you wish, but that’s a thorny differentiation).  It didn’t take long for me to label it my “sobriety anthem” (along with this song, which sadly missed the cut for this list).  I understand that the term “sobriety anthem” could be a turnoff, and strike some as too self-serious, but if so, you’ve probably never had to go from day to day, not knowing if you’d drink, and if you did, if you’d drink until you lost your job, your friends and family, and died.  If you need a fucking anthem to not do that, you get yourself a fucking anthem.

I latched onto this song more than almost anything during my first two years of sobriety.  My first few blogs borrowed their titles from the lyrics (“The Shades Are Raised” was one, “I Gather Speed” was another).  But nothing could ever beat the first time I saw it played live.  I’ve had plenty of crying fits during songs I have emotional connections to in concerts, but my first RVM (at my second-ever Pearl Jam concert, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on July 12th, 2003) was a moment of purest emotional astonishment, surely never to be equaled.

I took a drive today,
time  to emancipate.
I guess it was the beatings made me wise.
But I’m not about to give thanks
or apologize.
I couldn’t breathe,
holdin’ me down.
Hand on my face,
kissin’ the ground.
Enmity gauged,
united by fear,
Supposed to endure
what I could not forgive…

I seem to look away,
wounds in the mirror waved.
It wasn’t my surface most defiled.
Head at your feet.
Fool to your crown.
Fist on my  plate,
swallowed it down.
Enmity  gained,
united by fear.
Tried to endure what I could not forgive.
Saw things clearer
once you were in my
rearviewmirror.

I gather speed from you fucking with me.
Once and for all, I’m far away.
I hardly believe, finally the shades are raised.

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