Friday, June 16, 2017

The Natural

I’m almost afraid to write this. Afraid to see the words on the paper. Afraid to hear the responses that my friends will doubtless offer. Afraid to touch this portion of my heart.
But writing is what I do when I am carrying a weight inside. Sharing what I write is how I make sense of it. I get feedback that tells me that what I’m feeling is what others feel too. They appreciate how I’ve addressed it and maybe I’ve touched a nerve and said something that they wanted to say but were struggling to find the right words. Conversely, I might be taken to task and I realize that I hadn’t thought of a particular angle and it helps me process it further.
I don’t know what kind of response I’m wanting from this post. I don’t know how those who know me will react. I’m not out for pity or sympathy, let me say that here. I’m just trying to make sense.
I’m 53.
I feel lost. Adrift. I feel like everything that made up “Craig” has been stripped out in the past 18 years and I’m not sure what has filled the void. In honesty…it feels like the void is all there is.
18 years ago, I was a dad and a husband. By the end of that year (1999) I was a divorced dad, seeing my daughter once a week and every other weekend. I was 800 miles from home, trying desperately to make my way in a new town, in a new career, with a completely shattered heart.
Make no mistake…my divorce destroyed me. I loved my wife. I defined myself as a husband and a father. It hurt when she left. Hurt in ways I cannot begin to describe properly. Not with all my words. There were nights I slept on the couch because I couldn’t sleep in that bed. There were nights I passed out on the living room floor, because I had been rocking back and forth on my hands and knees, crying and praying to God that He would bring her back. That this pain would end. I would wake up stiff and sore with my fingertips bloodied from where I had clawed at the carpet so tightly in my grief, that the fibers cut into my skin.
I missed my daughter so much in the days between her visits that I felt as if I were dead when she was gone. I was a husband without a wife. A father without his child. A man without the things that defined him.
It took me two years to take my wedding ring off for good. All I had was my job, so I threw myself into it and got better and better at it. Until I was very good. I made money. I bought a house. But it wasn’t a home. Not when Daisy wasn’t there.
I lived like this for six years. Around 2005 I was finally coming back to life. Holly had remarried and there was no longer any chance for reconciliation. (In hindsight, I am eternally grateful for this. There are few people on this earth now that I would rather never be around more than her. But it took a long time to get there) But I was still lost. I was undefined. I was in the mortgage business but it wasn’t my passion. I was a dad but I only got my fatherhood about 30% of the time. I had the heart of a husband but I had no wife. I am a son, and neither of my parents have any desire whatsoever to have a relationship with me. (Thankfully, God brought another set of “adopted” parents into my life and they are more parental than my own biological family. But it still stings) I was living, but I was not alive.
I lost everything in 2008 and I lived in a Yukon for almost 6 years.
These last few months, I have been realizing that I am still homeless. I traded a Yukon for a 700-sf townhouse. I live indoors. I have my own kitchen and shower and washing machine. But in my soul, I feel like I merely moved into a bigger version of the Yukon. This isn’t a home.
This isn’t where my heart is. This is four walls and some amenities. I’m thankful for it, make no mistake. But my heart longs for something that I still haven’t found. And as each day passes now, I feel more and more that I won’t find it. It passed me by years ago. My rudder came off somewhere back in one of those early storms and all I do now is drift. I land in a harbor now and then, but the next wind fills my sails and blows me back out there on the high seas. My compass spins wildly and I wonder where I’m going to find myself.
I’m homeless. I long to be somewhere else. Somewhere familiar. Somewhere where I feel like I have strengths that matter, that I was “exactly the right guy for this job.” I’m good at what I do -make no mistake- but I feel as if I am just a worker bee.
I’m homeless. Home is where your heart is, they say. My heart is back in that neighborhood I grew up in. It’s on the backwater of Lake Como in Smyrna, fishing with my best friend, having a conversation. I haven’t had a real conversation in about 20 years now. Men don’t make friends easily after about age 22. Once you leave college, and you get out into the world, men put on their armor and never take it off. We don’t readily bond with other men, after a certain age. I have friends in Lynchburg, but none that I have had any kind of deep conversations with. None that I miss if a few days go by and we don’t talk. We “like” each other’s posts on Facebook and make inside jokes about politics and that passes as friendship. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just how we are.
I think about owning a home again. A real home with a yard and a deck and a man cave in the garage. Then I think to myself how there’s nobody I would really invite over to the man cave. Nobody who I think; “I think I’ll call __________ and hang out tonight.”
Instead I think how maybe after he’s done for the season on his crab boat, I can get my best friend to come down here for a few days and we can fish together and laugh and joke and be with someone who really knows the other guy.
I have been wrestling with the great question of men at my age: “What happens now?”
The worst thing in the world is having no answer. It’s worse than having an answer you don’t like. Because at least you know what’s going to happen, even if it’s not what you wanted. I’ve been feeling myself give up, a little at a time, a little more each day, for almost a year now. Not giving up on life, I’m not that desperate and I’m far too stubborn. But giving up on dreams. Not wild, crazy, reckless dreams, just dreams of any kind. Dreams of the family that I had so longed to create. Dreams of where the relationship would be with my daughter at this stage of life. Dreams of writing something important and dreams of leaving some small legacy of some sort.
One by one, those dreams are fading, like tiny light bulbs flickering and then extinguishing altogether, losing their battle with the dark.
Brennan Manning once wrote that there were three ways to commit suicide: Kill yourself, let yourself die, or live life without any hope. Numbers one and two will never be a consideration for me. But I fear number three because I already see it happening to me.
I watched “The Natural” the other day. When that movie first came out I was 22. The movie was a portent. It was a tragic view of a life that was marred by a few choices, some made by the protagonist and some made by others that affected him. I remember one scene that struck me, even as a young man. Roy Hobbs is sitting in a little luncheonette talking with his childhood girlfriend, Iris. They haven’t seen each other in 16 years and, while she knows nothing of his trials and the damage done to his life, she can see that he’s not the young man he was.
They make small talk and finally she looks at him and says, “What happened to you, Roy?” He pauses for a long time. The words pain him and finally he says, simply, “My life…didn’t turn out the way I’d planned.”
I remember being 22 and thinking how I hope that never happens to me.
I’m 53 and I’m afraid it has.
I watched it last week and it made me cry. Often.
My life didn’t turn out the way I’d planned. Not even close. And there isn’t much I can do about it now. I can’t get the years back that I lost. I can return my daughter to age 6 and somehow avoid homelessness and loss. I can’t seem to open up and let myself fall for someone and have a family. I won’t be calling my father this Sunday and reminiscing. I don’t go to my job each day thinking about how I can achieve greatness and see my gifts put to use. My job has its moments, for sure, but it’s not a passion for me. Not sleeping in my car again is a passion, so I do my job. I’ve taken steps to find some answers on this. I don’t want to have this be how I’ll face each day for the next 30 years. But it all happened so fast. I was 7 years old, riding my spider bike to Nonesuch creek to fish with my friends and the next thing I knew I was married with a daughter. I fell asleep one night and woke up divorced in a new house by myself. I left for groceries and came back to find my key didn’t fit the lock and I had to live in my car. I drove to Virginia, got a job, left for lunch and when I got back I’ been here 3 years and my job was flat. I was flat.
Mark and I were fishing one day, I blinked and we’re in our fifties and haven’t fished together in 25 years. Time didn’t pass me by…it latched on and dragged me down the highway as it raced to its destination. Somehow I worked myself loose and found myself deposited here, trying to figure out where here is…and who I am.

“I guess…my life didn’t turn out the way I’d planned.”

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