Friday, February 13, 2015

One Day I'll Be a Guardian Angel in Some Old Mother's Story

So I do a lot of things - I raise two girls, I husband like crazy, I edit company newsletters, I take high-quality radiographs, I do laundry and dishes, I grocery shop, I take care of the trash.  Hell, I even sometimes clean a toilet.

I also occasionally save kids' lives.

Today, Sophie and I were on our morning walk in the bitter cold of a February morning, when I looked to my right and saw a very young toddler in nothing but PJs waddling around in front of a house.  I did a kind of double take, looking around briefly for a parent, but saw none in sight.  The front door of the house was firmly shut.

Looking back on it now, I don't know why I didn't stop right away, but I think it's because I've been taught by society not to be too attentive to children I don't know.  After all, to a random mother, I'm just a strange man on the sidewalk.  In any case, I kept on walking, assuming that a parent must be around somewhere and I just didn't see them.

I didn't get more than a few steps from the kid when I saw, up ahead at the next house, a mother running out a door, clearly looking for her kid, but heading in the wrong direction.  She very quickly disappeared around the far corner of her house.

At this point, things got interesting.

A large Enterprise Rent-A-Truck  had passed me several moments earlier (before I saw the kid), and the driver had gone down to the end of the cul-de-sac and turned around.  He was now heading back up the street, diesel engine roaring.

After seeing the mother going the wrong direction, I turned back to the kid, who was now toddling towards the street, literally on a perfectly-timed collision course with this huge rented box truck, which showed no evidence of slowing down.  I ran back to the kid and got in front of him to sort of block him.  He was only a few feet from the street at that point.

Moments later, the rental truck roared past behind me.

Being that it was a large box truck and a rental, I'm sure the driver isn't used to driving them, and this kid was so small - no more than a year-and-a-half - I honestly don't know if he would have seen him, had the kid made it into the street.  The driver certainly didn't appear to slow down at all as he passed us standing just a few feet away.

The kid was a cute little redhead, and although he looked up at me with an expression of "Who the hell are you?", he immediately reached his arms out for me to pick him up.  I was trying to control my dog and keep her off of him, and I wasn't about to pick him up anyway (that whole strange men with kids thing again), so instead I picked up the dog and then took his hand and started walking back towards where I had seen his mother.

She came running towards us about that time, panting and half-crazed with fear and scooped him up into her arms.  I think she was embarrassed that he'd gotten out of the house.  She said something like, "I guess I'm going to have to start locking the doors!"

I said something about being surprised when I saw him walking down the driveway, she thanked me, practically in tears now, and I continued on my walk.

It was just really strange that I happened to be there right at that time, with that big truck barreling down the street, and this kid - old enough to walk, but not old enough to sense danger - literally toddling right on a collision course with it.  It's disturbing to think about what might have happened if I hadn't been there at that particular time.

And of course, it will probably come as no surprise to you to discover that this was the first time I had walked down that street in months.  In the winter, I don't normally walk far enough to get to that street.

In any case, considering how I just happened to be in the right place at the right time - this unfamiliar man with a UK toboggan and a little white dog on a pink leash - I figure that this mother, in future decades, will tell the story of when the strange man appeared out of nowhere, saved her kid from being flattened by a truck, and then disappeared down the street, never to be seen again.

This is how those goose-bump-inducing guardian angel stories begin, I think.  

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Pirate Looks at 40

Dear Scott: 

Hey there kid, it's me writing.  Me, your older self.  We turned 40 today.  Can you believe that? Remember when the guy next door turned 40, and his family hung that huge banner on the garage that said "Lordy, Lordy, Harry's 40!"?  Well, that's us today, man.  We've hit the big Four-Oh.    

I'm writing to you because I wanted to tell you some things.  Sort of prepare you for what you've got coming up.  You're 13 right now and, to use a phrase you've never heard before, shit's about to get real.  Before too much longer, your grandfather is going to die.  Mom and Dad are going to meet you at the bus stop that sunny Friday afternoon and you're going to get in the car, wondering why they're not at work and are picking you up, and even though you're going to have known he was sick, you're going to be completely blindsided by his death because you're still too young and naive to realize that he wasn't going to get better.  You're going to sit there in stunned silence for a few moments after your Dad says "Your grandfather died today," and then your Mom will turn around and ask if you're okay and you'll just stoically nod and say yes but you won't really be.  You'll hold it all in for several days until the end of the funeral, when you will totally break down in uncontrollable sobbing as you stand there with the other pallbearers while everyone files out and you see your Mom and Aunt hugging each other and crying.

Unfortunately, it's not going to get much better after that, although, thankfully, no more deaths for a while.  A few months after Grandaddy dies, you all are going to move. Not just to a new house, but actually leave Louisville and move up to Cincinnati.  I know, hard to believe, right?  It's going to really suck because you will have just finished 7th grade and will be 13 and will have to leave all the friends and familiar places you've always known.  You'll have to say goodbye to Russell and Osborne and all your friends from church and move up to a new place in a different state.  To make matters worse, you're going to go to public schools for the first time, starting in 8th grade, and pardon my French but it's going to be fucking awful for a while.  You're not going to be emotionally prepared for this new environment and you're going to be awkward and shy and kids are going to be cruel to you for the first few years.  They're going to make fun of how you dress and your Kentucky accent and no one is going to give a flip about UK basketball or the Kentucky Derby or any of the other things you and your friends in Louisville liked.

Thankfully, you'll get really involved with your youth group at church, and they will become your core group of friends throughout high school, and they'll accept you and love you and care about you as friends should.  

You'll meet people like Kurt and Renee, Allen and Bill, Randall and Fred, and Janet and Joanne (yes, they will all come in pairs), and they'll all be really good friends.  You'll also meet this girl at church named Melanie and you all will start dating in 10th grade, and she'll love you even though you're awkward and goofy and quirky.  

You're not going to go to UK like you'd always planned.  You're going to end up going to Georgetown College, because that's where your girlfriend plans on going.  You'll never regret this decision. I know it sounds crazy, but you are going to join a fraternity there and get really involved and make a ton of lifelong friends.  

You're going to reach adulthood there and later consider it to be, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best 4 years of your life. 

Unfortunately, you're not going to apply yourself very well academically, and while you'll still get by with B's, it will be way less than you are capable of.  I know, I sound like Mom and Dad.  Sorry man, turns out they were right.  You should work harder.  Should care more.  

After college, your young adulthood isn't going to be all that glamorous.  Sorry, but it's the truth.  You and Melanie are going to get married and live in Lexington where you were born, but you are going to start suffering from generalized anxiety and panic attacks, and you're going to be really unhappy and unfulfilled in your job.  You're going to pursue a career as a novelist, writing for hours in your spare time, but it's not going to get you anywhere, at least not professionally.  You will manage to get a few stories published, but nothing on the scale of what you are hoping for.

Things are going to get worse and worse until you and Melanie get divorced.  Your friends are going to treat you like shit for a while and you're going to lose a few friendships for good.  One of your best friends will end up not even inviting you to his wedding.  A year after that, you're going to lose your job right before Christmas and just two months before your 30th birthday.  You're going to learn a tough lesson that corporate America is made up mostly of dicks and assholes.   

The good news is that you and Melanie are going to get back together and have another daughter.  The bad news is that over the next few years, you're going to drink a lot and work several jobs that you hate even more than the last one, and then you're going to apply for graduate school in Creative Writing and be devastated when you don't get accepted anywhere.  Then you're going to go to X-ray school instead.  Sort of a consolation prize, I guess.  

While you're in school things are going to be really awful.  You're going to start gaining weight and being pretty unhealthy and money is going to be tight.  You're going to be glad you are working towards a stable and well-paying career, but secretly you are going to be embarrassed that you've had to go back to school to get an associate's degree after already having earned a Bachelor's.  You're going to feel like a failure.  You're going to react badly to the stress and start smoking and eating a lot, even though you've never smoked before.

Thankfully, things are going to get better after you graduate.  You're going to move to Cincinnati and get a job, and things are going to improve financially.  But your health is going to continue to suffer from a string of really bad lifestyle habits that the previous five or six years created, and I don't want to scare you, but you're going to end up having a heart attack when you are 38.  

Thankfully it's going to be a small one and you are going to get yourself to the hospital and get a stent placed.  But it's going to scare the shit out of you and you are going to totally turn your life around.  You're going to lose weight and get healthy for the first time in a long time and you are going to end up actually being thankful for the wake-up call.  It's going to totally change your perspective on life.  

Over the course of the first 20 years of your adulthood, you're going to change a lot.  Everything you believe right now?  You'll give it all up and pretty much rebuild your beliefs from the ground up.  These changes won't come without some bumps along the way, and you'll have some problems with friends and even family members because of it, but you'll ultimately be pointed in the right direction.

Your political perspectives are going to change and you are going to become a huge reader, devouring books left and right.  Crazy, right?  You're going to love learning and your adulthood is going to be a journey of discovery and self-education.  Some people will think you are weird for that and you'll find that most people don't keep learning very much after they get out of school.  This will set you apart from other people, and sometimes it will make you feel lonely.

Sometimes you will feel like an outsider among your friends and family and neighbors and co-workers.  As a result, you'll have a lot of different masks you wear, depending on who you are around.  There will be a home Scott, and a work Scott, and a family Scott, and an out-in-public Scott, and an online Scott, and a with-friends Scott.  Sometimes you'll wonder which one is the real one, but in reality they're all you; they're all just different aspects of who you are and who you've become over the course of 40 years of experiences.

So that's where we are now, kid.  A lot of people say, when they are looking back over their past, that they wouldn't change a thing.  I think that's a lot of bullshit.  I'd change a lot of things, if I could.  But life isn't like that.  You don't get to go back and change things.  It's an old cliche, but what's done is done.  What you do instead is grow and learn and make mistakes and grow and learn some more and just do the best you can.  I can't give you any better advice than that.


P.S.  At the age of 40, I've learned to be immensely thankful for what I have.  That's probably the biggest lesson I've learned, kiddo.  In the month of November, sometimes you'll see people listing on Facebook (yeah, don't even'll figure out in time what that is)...listing on Facebook things they're thankful for each day of the month, which I find a bit annoying - it comes off like bragging.  Others will simply use Thanksgiving as an impetus for reflecting on what they are thankful for.  Me personally?  I don't wait for November or Thanksgiving anymore.  As part of my daily meditation, I try to reflect on all the things I'm thankful for.  It helps to keep me grounded and helps to remind me, each and every day, that I don't need anything else - I already I have more than I could ever reasonably need or want.  Learning to be thankful is a vitally important skill, and I am thankful (excuse the pun) that I've finally learned to be thankful.  Wish I had learned it earlier, but grow and learn and make mistakes and just do the best you can.  It took until 40 to figure it out, but at least it didn't take me until 50, or 60, or never.