Dec 28, 2012

Get In My Bed: My Last Blog About Love

"What is love?  Baby don't hurt me."

That was part of the speech I gave to my friends Jason and Denise on their wedding day over a decade ago.  That stupid Haddaway song had come out the summer before.  I said a few standard things and then I quoted the lyrics from the song and had the DJ play the hook from the song after I spoke.  A few people laughed, we toasted.  It was all very clever.  It wasn't heartfelt.

Because is that what love is?

I always thought love was this....

It came on the other night.  Moonstruck.  It was a sign.  My mother was flipping through the channels while I was in the kitchen.  Earlier that day, the day after Christmas, I had hugged my Mom tight in the same kitchen, my sister's kitchen, and cried in her arms.  Through the tears, I asked her if she thought I was a good person.  Because I haven't been a good person sometimes.  I'm human.  I've made mistakes.  Big ones, small ones.  Of course my Mom told me I was, but she's my Mom.  She doesn't have to live with me and the mistakes I've made all the time, only I do.  I love my Mom, but she's biased.  I just needed a fucking hug.

Love is a cliff.  I've given this speech before.  It's a cliff.  You have to dive off, you can't stick your toe over the side.  You can't put a parachute on first or grow wings.  You have to jump.  And you have to be prepared for one of two things.  You're either going to land in someone's arms or you're gonna land badly and smash into a million pieces.  But you have to believe that someone will catch you.  You have to have faith.

I smashed again this year, smashed in a way I really haven't smashed before.  Smashed during a year my house was smashed by Sandy.  This has been the hardest year of my life.

I gave this 'Love is a cliff' speech to my ex-wife right before we started dating, on a Coney Island boardwalk.  It moved her.  It wasn't written down on a piece of paper or on a blog, it wasn't premeditated.  It came from my heart.  It's what I believed.  She was living with another guy and she wasn't satisfied.  I didn't ask her to come into my life, she invaded it.  She pursued me for a year - she stayed in touch, mainly over the Internet (thanks, Internet).  She told me she was having dreams about me and she was writing poetry about me.  I thought she was cute and I was very touched by her passion towards me, so I gave her a chance.  I told her I wasn't a home wrecker, that if she wanted to go exploring with me - if she wanted to jump off that cliff - she would have to end this unsatisfying relationship.

And she did.  Very soon after that fateful conversation, she asked him to leave.  A year later, we got engaged.

Five years after she jumped off the cliff, we got divorced.  And even tho I was disillusioned, even tho we couldn't make it work, I still believed that love was a high dive.  You have to take chances, you have to be willing to get hurt to have it all.  If you play it safe, it's not love - not storybook love, not romantic love, not "Get in my bed" love.

I want "Get in my bed" love.  I want crazy stupid love.  But it's hard to believe that I will ever get it.  The older you get, the harder it gets.  It's hard to surrender.  It's hard to say "It Is What It Is."  It's hard to fool yourself.  Of all my romantic failures, it's never been as hard as it is now.

Because there are signs everywhere.  The hurricane was a sign.  My new nephew is a sign.

This is a sign:

"It actually scares me a little bit that you can read through my veil of concealment."
"I should have been there for you. I was selfish."
"I don't know if we are on the same page with this, but our interaction... Emails, meeting, sex... Was electric. For me at least. Horrible timing, but electric. The little I know of you, you are a gentleman. You care about romance. You care about being a grown up. You have your shit together."
"My personal life was not where I wanted it to be. I encountered some harsh realities."
"I was afraid to see you. To see what kind of a man I could have instead of what I do have. Not that what I have is horrible. It's just not... Electric."

These are excerpts from an e-mail I got from a woman a few months ago.  This is not the woman I fell for this year, not the woman who just squeezed my heart like a rotten tomato.  This was a woman who I met through a somewhat subversive online dating site last October.  We had a one-night stand.  She came to my house late one night and we did some dirty things to each other and had a fun night.  Then she went home....back to her boyfriend.

She's still with this guy.  And that's fine.  I didn't want to jump off a cliff for her, I just wanted her to take my pants off.  She didn't reveal she was with someone until right before we met, and I was horny and not emotionally invested so I told her to do what she thought was right, and she thought fucking me was right, and I wasn't going to argue.  Last year was a rough year, too.  Not as rough as this one, but divorce and losing money and losing the life you knew for five years, even if it wasn't a very happy life, was very difficult.  So it was okay for me to be selfish even if I'm still not a home wrecker.

In between the fun between the sheets, she revealed her unhappiness to me.  Her man wasn't doing things right in the bedroom, he wasn't giving her enough attention.  This guy was bald and white, he had a good job, they lived in a nice apartment on the Upper East Side together.  Such a familiar tale.

And then she contacted me after the hurricane - a lot of women from my past did, my ex-wife did, a lot of people did.  This girl wanted to see me.  But she was still with him so she didn't, and that was fine.  There was only one girl I wanted to see, and this wasn't her.  Instead, she lied about why she flaked, but I've grown smarter and I called her out on it.  She wrote all those things above a few weeks later.

"It actually scares me a little bit that you can read through my veil of concealment."
It scares me too, but it's a 'thing' that I have.  I always know when there's trouble brewing, when lies are being spun.  My gut starts screaming at me.  Too bad it can't tell me the Lotto numbers.  But I also know that this girl moved to the other side of the country and took her non-electric man with her, and she still wanted to see me after the hurricane, still talked about getting between the sheets with me, only a lot more guarded this time, and understandably so.

She moved on with her life even if it's "just not...Electric."  Life is fucking sad.  Love is fucking sad.  The choices people make sometimes are fucking sad.  And now so am I.  Because I have to turn into one of these zombies - one of these people who just look for someone who's good enough.  I have to unplug, just like this woman has - just like other women have, just like people do all the time.

And it's not my nature - my inherent nature.  My nature is Ronny Cammareri's nature.  If you want it to be great, you've gotta take chances.  You've gotta jump off the cliff.  Even if life ain't the movies, you've gotta jump off the cliff.  And now I think I jumped for the last time.  It's too hard.  It hurts too much.  I'm Humpty Dumpty - I can't be put back together again.  Not the guy writing this blog, not the guy writing these songs.  He has to die.  His timing is a curse and his belief system has been torn apart.  I'm too close to a nervous breakdown to keep trying like this.

So this is My Last Blog About Love.  I surrender.  I have to change my philosophy once and for all - I have to go find a parachute and hope to fall gently into someone's arms - find "a nice girl," not the fantasy girl.  Lloyd Dobler is dead.  I can't afford another crash landing.

It's time to say goodbye to these songs, to that album I was dead-set on making earlier this year, before the floods came and washed my studio away, washed away my record label.  I don't want to write these songs anymore, I don't even want to hear them.  I still have my piano and I still have my fragile heart, and playing them has always been a bit of therapy, but these songs are for me now, they're not for anyone else.  Maybe my words are too, but a lot of people have been reading these words and telling me how affected they are, and maybe I'm helping some people, too.  In my sad-sack Charlie Brown sorta way, maybe I'm inspiring some people.  I don't know.  I don't know anything anymore.

My Mom wants me to go back to therapy - she wants me to get all fixed up, just like my house.  But this blog has been more cathartic, more therapeutic than any session I ever had.  My bi-monthly therapy sessions took place on Staten Island, a few blocks from my Sandy-destroyed house in my Sandy-destroyed neighborhood, and I can't help but see that as another sign - that not being there means not going back there. 

But I definitely do need fixing.  I've never been on meds, I'm responsible with liquor (sometimes) and marijuana.  They've never been a crutch.  I thought it was love that would fix me, but I've been a fool.  I've been a fucking fool.  So it's time to stop thinking like one, it's time to stop writing like one.

It's time to stop feeling like one.  There's only one romantic Ron left at the end of this passage, and his last name ain't Scalzo, it's Cammareri.  He's got a wooden hand and a shitty job in the bread factory, but he refused to "Snap Out Of It!" and he got the girl in the end.

At least one of us did.....

Dec 26, 2012

The Year Without A Santa Claus

Ho ho ho.
Since I was 16 years old, I was the family Santa Claus.  I'm the oldest cousin of this generation on my Mom's side of the family, and I have four younger cousins on that side, so playing Santa has been a full-time job.  I'm not sure how it got started - if I volunteered or someone volunteered me, but I took to it well and it became my default responsibility every year there was a kid in my family who still believed.

I missed two years.  When I was 20, I had to work the part-time overnight security job that I had while I was in college.  I watched Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer alone in a stock broker's office, and my boss let me go home early, Bob Cratchit style, but not early enough to trek from downtown New York City to Long Island, where my family was, to don the red suit and the white beard.

So I went back to Brooklyn and spent Christmas Eve with Rachel, my first serious girlfriend.  It was our first holiday together after six months of dating.  My parents and my sister wouldn't be home from my aunt's until very late, as was tradition.  Rachel and I did some fantastic 'no one will be home for awhile' lovemaking in my room, then she fell asleep on my shoulder while I watched It's A Wonderful Life on the couch, waiting for my family to return home.

It was a great Christmas.

The other year I skipped playing Santa was the year before, when I was 19 and miserable.  It was because of a girl - a girl I had gotten to know better over the previous summer, a girl who was sweet and beautiful, who was coveted by my peers.  We hung out at a concert together and flirted all day.  She put ice cream on my nose.  A few weeks later, we were making out on the hood of my car in front of her house.  It was the same summer my parents were separating.  I was losing my hair.  Literally.  You could have sewed a baseball cap onto my head that summer and I would have been fine with it.

So this girl was a win, a big one.  It wasn't just her looks.  Her presence eased my pain, made me feel like a bigger man, made me forget all my problems.  By the end of that summer, she had ended it, ended things before they had a chance to pick up steam.  By Christmas, things had become awkward between us and I was down in the dumps.  I passed on playing Santa, and my sister's boyfriend was there to step in.

It was a shitty Christmas.

The girl that I'm talking about is the same girl who was with me when I walked into my house on Staten Island after Sandy happened, after the storm took all my stuff away and turned my life upside down.  I took a deep breath and unlocked the front door.  She walked in with me, into the mud-covered upper level of my home.  The basement was still inaccessible, dirty brown water lingering in the staircase leading down there.  This girl looked around at the carnage and noted how well I was handling this, seeing my house destroyed from the inside for the first time.  I didn't tell her until much later that night that my reaction was the result of my heart having already been crushed a few weeks earlier, and so what I walked into was numbing and dumbfounding, but not that depressing.  Comparatively speaking, it was just another punch to the gut.

I hadn't maintained much of a relationship with this woman over time, since that year my misery over losing her prevented me from being Santa.  We hadn't seen each other in a long time.  Of all the people who have entered my life since those teenage years, she was the one with me when I walked into my destroyed house.  She was the one who took me in, who reached out when I broadcast to the social networking world that my house was underwater.  It's crazy.  Life is crazy.

This is why I loved the show LOST.  Yes, it was elaborate, even difficult at times.  It was a deep show - it made you think - so naturally I gravitated towards it.  Ultimately, LOST wasn't about time travel or scientific experiments or a mysterious island.  It was about relationships, about the people that jump into and out of your life, about the wheel always turning.  It was about love and death and fate and destiny.  In a lot of ways, my life is like LOST, and maybe your life is too.

In LOST, there were a lot of love stories, and they were all complex.  Love is complicated, it rarely takes a straight line.  Love is a struggle, it's unpredictable, sometimes tragic.  Often times, love just happens whether you want it to or not, even if the timing isn't right.  It's what you do with it once it happens that matters most.  You either make it work or you don't.  You either embrace it or you reject it.  Love is complex, but love is still a choice.

What I had with this girl when I was 19 wasn't love, it was infatuation.  But it wounded me, it ruined my 19th Christmas.  But then Rachel came along six months later and my next seven Christmases were great.  I forgot about the other girl even though she was still sweet and beautiful.  I forgot about misery.

Santa, age 16.
This Christmas was the third time I didn't play Santa Claus.  My sister had a baby the day before Christmas Eve.  My house was destroyed by a hurricane in October.  My heart was let down by love once more - somehow love became a curse rather than a blessing, and at a time where I needed as many blessings as I could muster up, a curse was unwelcome.

My little cousins are 10 now.  I explained to my aunt that this was a good opportunity to ease the boys out of the whole Santa experience, out of me showing up in the middle of the night in a red suit handing out gifts.  Santa could still exist for them, he just wasn't showing up in person to deliver the goods.  I stopped believing in Santa around the same age, and this was how my sister and I were eased out, as well.   My Dad's friend John Lorenzo would come to my grandparents' house every Christmas Eve and play Santa.  We were well fooled for many years, and then one year Santa Lorenzo didn't show and we just got presents under the tree and an excuse that Santa was extra busy.  The next year, we knew Santa was some dude in a suit with fake whiskers and we took it well.

But during my tenure, portraying Santa hasn't just been for the kids - my whole family genuinely enjoys it, has enjoyed it since I was a kid myself - putting the youngsters to sleep, sneaking into a room and stuffing a pillow into my shirt, my aunt painting my eyebrows white.  The photo ops, the inside jokes, seeing their somewhat reserved nephew/son/brother/cousin whooping it up and ho ho ho'ing once a year.  It's a lot of fun, it embodies the spirit of Christmas.

And of course I enjoy it too.  I'm not super close with my cousins, but it makes me feel good to know that they'll grow up knowing that I was Santa, that I played that important role during all their formative Christmases, that I was their John Lorenzo.  It's special being Santa.

Last year, I got divorced, but by Christmas, things were looking up.  It was because of a girl, a connection.  It was barely a glimmer of a girl, but it was there.  It was a feeling.  A feeling that things would get better for me.  It carried me through the holidays, it grew into something great rather quickly - and I embraced it.

But there is no one to embrace this year, and no feeling attached to it - not any good ones, at least.  Taking the year off wasn't just about my own plight - this has been one fucked up year here in America.  I think of those poor families in Newtown, about all the recent tragedies in our country, the senseless violence, and it makes a lot of things, Santa portrayals included, seem meaningless.  One would argue that we need Santa more than ever nowadays, but I can only play that role for the people in my own world.

In my own world, Christmas typically means holiday music and cartoons, good wine and food, and playing Santa.  This year was, of course, not typical.  On Christmas Eve, the day after my godson was born, I got up and ran 7 miles, Depeche Mode's Songs of Faith and Devotion pumping through my ear buds.  It's one of the sexiest, sultriest albums ever recorded by someone not named Prince.  It's a soundtrack for Scorpios, filled with songs about lust and hard truths about love and longing.  It's dark and it swings, and damn if it wasn't great to sprint along to for an hour.  If any of my male readers blew it this Christmas - gave their lady an underwhelming gift or (god forbid) no gift at all - I can save you, it's not too late.  Light some candles, put this album on, carry her into the bedroom, lay her down softly and pleasure her from the opening screech of "I Feel You" until the final notes of "Higher Love" have faded.  You're welcome.

On Christmas Eve, I saw my sister for the first time since she had given birth.  She had a hard labor, but she and the baby were okay.  She was a trooper.  Then I held my little nephew for the first time, this tiny little miracle, and as expected, he helped to heal my broken heart just a little bit, helped even more than the run did.

It was there in the hospital that I confirmed to my aunt that Santa was on vacation this year.  I don't think anyone was surprised, and the baby's presence softened the blow.  But I'm not retiring, I'm just taking the year off.  Later that night, I reminded my family that next Christmas we would likely all be together, this new baby would be celebrating his first birthday and his first holiday season, that the Christmas traditions that we all know and love would return in full force, Santa included.  That I've got another 8-9 years of St. Nicholas impersonations on the calendar now, a new kid to spoil and to fool and to have fun with.

Today, Christmas Day, was subdued.  It was just my parents and I in the morning - my mother and I made pignolati from my late Nana's recipe.  Italians always equate food and recipes with legacy, and my Nana has been gone for a long time now.  It was nice to be part of that tradition, a role my sister usually takes in the kitchen alongside Mom, but she was a little preoccupied this year.  Then Mom made macaroni and meatballs, we baked my sister's famously delicious pepperoni bread and we brought it all to the maternity room.  It was as ghetto a Christmas dinner as us Italians will allow, but just as food is a tradition on this day, so is family.  We drank wine and celebrated Baby's First Christmas around a makeshift table.  It was a perfectly awesome shitty Christmas in spite of Santa's absence.

When I think of those two first Christmases I wasn't Santa, it gives me hope for the future.  The first Christmas sucked, the next one was great.  There was no love in my life and then there was.  It makes me think that not only will Santa be back next year, but so will I.  Thanks to generous grants from MusiCares, the Broadcasters Foundation of America, and my employers at Clear Channel, I have been able to replace everything essential that drowned in the flood.  Thanks to my generous boss Elvis Duran, my dog and I are living in a nice building in a great neighborhood until the restoration is complete, until this nightmare is over.  I will come back from this part of my life stronger and I will have enviable options when I do.

Within three weeks, I will have confirmed my participation in next year's NYC Marathon.  I'll finish that race strong in November, then I'll look to carry a girl into the bedroom and put that Depeche Mode album on.  Six weeks after that, I'll put on a Santa suit for my little godson.  I'll hand him toys, I'll hug my family, maybe I'll even kiss someone special under the mistletoe.

Christmas is over.  It goes by in a flash, and so does life.  All you can do is count your blessings, find your joy, and find your muse.  For me, finding my joy and my muse have always been intertwined.  It's a romantic notion, of course.  It's all that's missing, the only thing missing in my life that truly matters.  I have a great family, I have my health and a great job.  I have music to compose and more of these cathartic self-effacing therapeutic stories to write.  I have friendships to strengthen, debts to pay for all the help I've been afforded.  I have some hard habits to break.

I can wait on love, I've been made to wait before.  Sometimes waiting means reaping the greatest rewards.  But I'm in a hurry too.  I ain't no spring chicken.  I held this little baby in my arms and realized what a gift he is.  I sat in the hospital and listened to my brother-in-law tell me what I already knew - that the experience bonds you to your wife even more than before, that your heart fills for the woman who is about to bear your child, for her agony and for her sacrifice.  I listened to him with mixed emotions - the passionate man in me listened hopefully even if the heartbroken man felt empty, cheated.

But sharing that passion, sharing that gift is not just up to me, I learned that many Christmases ago, and I just re-learned it a few short months ago.  It's like LOST, it's like Christmas - sometimes history repeats itself, you just have to learn enough to make sure it's a good history, not a bad one.  I only need to live up to my end of love's bargain - looking for it, yearning for it, trusting it, keeping it close, making it work.  Recognizing it, recognizing its importance.  Being a good man.  I know I have that in me, the rest is up to fate.  Or maybe it's up to Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas to y'all, and to y'all a good night.....

Dec 23, 2012

Three Men and a Baby

"A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man." - Don Corleone

I'm an uncle.  My godson was born today, just a little after 11am.  Anthony Salvatore DiMango.  7 pounds 10 ounces.  I sat in the waiting room with my father and my aunt and my sister's good friend and we waited, waited, waited.  Over 6 hours we waited.  My mother, not surprisingly, was at my sister's side almost the entire time, as was my brother-in-law.  This kid already had a pretty big fan club before he even popped out.  It's a nice thing.

The night before last, two nights before my baby sister blessed us with the first child of the next generation of my family tree, she and I had a long heart-to-heart talk.  It didn't go particularly well.  I didn't want to come to Long Island to be part of this, didn't want my hurricane luck, my shattered heart and my fractured ego to ruin what would be a life-changing, thrilling experience for the people that I care about the most.  Because there's no consoling me.  I'm close with my sister and we have both been thru a lot of the same things, most specifically fairly recent divorces - something you never expect to have in common with your sister by your mid-30's.  But we both married the same type of person, ones who didn't allow us to feel at ease with the type of people we were, and we both inevitably wanted out.  That doesn't make us better, or even special.  That's just the way it happened.

Now my sister is remarried.  Now she's a Mommy, a parent.  Now my sister is a very happy person, and she deserves it so much.  She has been through a lot, she is a good woman, and I love her.  But this is where our paths diverge.

I called my sister two nights ago because I was having one of those 'keep-it-together' moments, alone in my post-Sandy apartment.  I have good days and bad days, but most recent ones have been bad.  I didn't want advice or answers - there are none to give - I just wanted to talk, to cry, to vent.  I just wanted someone who knows me - who knows what I've been thru for the past ten years, never mind the past two - to confirm that this all sucked.  That it wasn't me being melodramatic.  It's not about the hurricane, that was just an extra left hook to the chin after I had already been knocked down.  This was about a girl.  About where she is now, about who she's with, about the choice she made.  Again.  About history repeating itself.  About how that changed everything.  This was about the future.  

And now, I'm a man divided.  Now, I feel like three different men.

I gave her my heart. She gave me a pen.
The first man is the hopeless romantic.  He has existed for awhile.  He's the dude who will never give up on love no matter how much it has beaten him down.  The dude who wants to fight even when he thinks he can never win.  The guy who wants the unattainable, the brass ring.  Lloyd Dobler.  Keith Nelson.  Duckie.  Someone asked me about my recent romantic situation - "Do you really want to deal with all this drama?"  It's a legit question.  After a divorce, a hurricane, the reasonable answer is "No."  But I've never been reasonable when it comes to love.  It's always been a bit of a curse that can still somehow be a blessing.  And so I respond, "If it ends up with 'Happily Ever After', then yes, I want to deal with it."  But it's not just up to me.  It takes two to tango.

And the romantic dummy inside of me has a friend now.  He carries a baseball bat, and every time the romantic fool dares to emerge, the baseball bat guy cuts him down at the knees and screams "STAY THE FUCK DOWN."  Give up and stay the fuck down.  Because you can only be disappointed so much.  Let them chase you, not the other way around.  At my awkward-for-me holiday party, a co-worker asked me to elaborate, and I obliged.  I said this: "Life ain't the movies.  It's so much more complicated, it's not that easy to be brave.  To be truly brave.  At the end of When Harry Met Sally, after all the missteps and the serendipity and the sweet friendship they created, it ain't Sally who shows up on New Year's Eve to profess her love and win Harry over once and for all.  It's Harry."  In other words, girls don't do the chasing, they never have.  So the baseball bat guy is prudent, practical.  He keeps me from chasing after I've already chased.  But he's also useless.    

Neil Young aptly said "Only love can break your heart."  But the fire still burns.  You don't ask for that, it just exists.  Sometimes you even try to put out the flame, but it's not in your hands.  I don't care what anyone says.  This is why I write sad love songs on my piano, why I've allowed myself to be hurt so often.  This is how I'm built.  Sometimes it's not up to you.  The heart wants what it wants.

And he kept on running.
The second man is the running man.  This man showed up when I got divorced, when I ran away from a marriage, from a commitment I made, from the ideology embodied by what happened today when little Baby DiMango was born.  The ideology that Love Is Forever, that love has a future, that it reaps rewards beyond great sex or having someone to smoke weed or watch Breaking Bad with.  The odds were against my ex-wife and I from the start, but I went boldly forth into that good night, holding on tight to that ideology.  And it failed.  Sometimes love fails no matter how bad you want it to succeed. 

Then I turned the running away into just plain running.  I was running towards something instead of away from it.  I was bettering myself.  I ran 800 miles this year and I'm still running.  It is one of the few things in my life right now that gives me hope, clarity - that makes me feel strong, that makes me feel real.  When I took my dog to the vet last year, she said that if I ran him two miles a day twice a day, not only would I finish the Marathon, I just might win it.  I don't want to win the Marathon, I just want to win at life, to have someone waiting at the finish line.  And that's what running represents to me.  Control.  Destiny.  Reaching unattainable goals.  Growing.  Running isn't for everyone, but it's certainly for me.

Proud parents, serious tailgaters
The third man is the family man.  I'm so proud of my sister and my brother-in-law, so happy for my parents, for my aunt, uncle, and my cousins.  This will be a whole new adventure, a definitive chapter in our family history - a family fractured by some untimely deaths and failed relationships, but still somehow very close in spite of it, in spite of how we've spread to different parts of the Northeast after all that loss.  And it's hard not sharing that with anyone special, even if I'm going to share it with all of them.  So fucking hard.  I thought it would be different, I thought a lot of things would be different.  But circumstances don't change who you are.

My Dad asked me straight up last night, in between all my crankiness and my apathy, my asking forgiveness for being a bit of a Grinch this year - "Do you want to have children?"  The answer was yes.  Not today.  But yes.  It's got to be right - it will never be perfect, but it has got to be right.  There has to be a plan.  You can't put the kid before the girl, she has to come first.  I'm a purist - I believe you can't make a baby without a vagina. 

And it's days like today - times like these last three months - that reaffirm what matters most to me.  It wasn't my house or all the things in it that got fucked by Sandy.  It's not my own selfish wants.  It's being part of something bigger, being someone's rock.  Being in love, being someone to lean on and someone who's cared for, being a good person and a good parent, being an uncle, being a Dad.  That's where I come from.  It doesn't need to happen today, but it needs to happen.  It's about the future.

Today, I envy my sister and my brother-in-law.  Because they did it right - they were ready, it made sense.  And they fulfilled that destiny.  My brother-in-law has been such a godsend for my sister.  She was so hurt by her divorce, so disillusioned.  I totally get that.  My first brother-in-law was a good guy, a good friend - it's not like he was a bad person, he was just bad for my sister.  When you got past the cosmetics of it, he just wasn't right.  I totally get that too.

It takes someone strong to help you rise from the ashes, someone who really wants you, who makes you feel wanted - and Mango is that guy.  I love him for it, and I'm so happy to be an uncle to his kid.  Too bad he's a dude, cause I'd marry him in a heartbeat.  The guy can cook like a motherfucker.  He's a tenacious rebounder.  And he's gonna be a great Dad - larger than life, boisterous, generous.  He's been around kids his whole adult life and Baby DiMango is gonna be blessed because of that.  This baby has no idea right now, no idea how much love he's surrounded by, but he will very soon.

Today, I feel like these three different men.  And I don't want to change - I don't want to give up on romance, I don't want to stop running towards something, I never want to take my family for granted.  Today, I am a Grinch, a brokenhearted hurricane victim, the owner of a crazy loveable dog, a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, and now a proud uncle.  2013 is only nine days away.  I can taste it.

Tomorrow, it's back to the pavement, then back to the hospital to hug my sister and hold my nephew.  Then it will be Christmas Eve, the strangest, shittiest, craziest most life changing holiday I may ever experience.  I have no expectations anymore, not for anyone else.  Just for myself.  I gotta be me.  I gotta be real.  I gotta keep running, keep dreaming.  I gotta find the right girl and make her an offer she can't refuse.

I gotta be The Godfather.

Dec 21, 2012

Fixing Buttons

I have a familiar dream of heaven, what it will be like when I pass on to the next whatever.  I've lived it already, lived it many times.  I'm running down the concrete path on Father Capodano Boulevard by my house on Staten Island, down to Midland Beach, where more than a few of my neighbors met their maker two months ago.  The path ends there, so I run into the grass, into this big beautiful green field south of New Dorp High School.  I run past the basketball courts and the picnic tables, through this small cluster of shady trees.

I'm with Buttons, my loyal Westie.  He's running beside me at full sprint, through the grass, his tongue wagging out of his mouth, his eyes blazing.  We run between those trees and out to the other side, out of the darkness and into the light.

This is my vision of heaven, of passing out of this life and into the next one.  Even if there is nothing after this life, I hope that this is the last thought, the last vision I have before I close my eyes forever.  When Buttons passes on, I hope this is the last vision he has too.

On Tuesday, Buttons and I were running five miles in the rain together in a completely new scene, dirt and gravel and muddy water kicking up into his fresh and powdery white coat.  He didn't seem to mind - dogs are like babies, they don't give a shit about being clean.  They just wanna sniff each others' butts and chase squirrels.  Buttons is locked up all day five days a week.  He needs these runs.  He needs them as much as I do.  And he has taken well to it.  Buttons and I can rock a 9 minute mile together pretty easily nowadays.  So I take him in the cold, in the rain.  I take him whenever I can, even though I can run faster and further without him.

Fixing Buttons comes first now.  In a lot of ways, fixing Buttons will help me fix myself.

Because Buttons needs more than these runs, he always has.  Buttons has social anxiety.  He's protective, territorial, he's nipped a long list of innocent victims, and most of all, he's super attached to me.  I can't make excuses for that side of him, although I probably tried to for a long time.  Buttons is my lovable problem child.  And like me, Buttons needs some normalcy in his life.  He needs companionship and he needs love.

On Tuesday night, I sat Buttons on his Sandy-salvaged grooming table out on the 4th story terrace of our new post-Sandy pad, brushing out mud and silt from his belly and his paws as I looked out towards the clear Manhattan skyline, beyond the blinking Christmas lights my sweet mother insisted upon hanging out on the railing in the rain a few days earlier.  It was brisk and windy as I powdered my dog up, got him looking sharp again.  It's the holidays - even if you don't feel your best, you should at least try to look your best.

I brought the radio outside.  The Who was on..."Love Reign O'er Me."  One of my all-time favorite songs, about a man having a personal crisis.  Not surprisingly, music has been my most constant companion in life these past two years.  Music and my dog.

Buttons sat at my feet on the terrace, looking out at the stars as I grilled some tilapia on a new Weber charcoal grill my parents bought me.  Christmas comes early for hurricane survivors.  I drank some white wine and thought about things I was trying to push out of my mind.  I had a good run, ate a nice healthy meal.  My dog was clean, my new apartment finally was too.  I watched Saturday Night Live and the Survivor finale, I watched my beloved Duke Blue Devils defeat Cornell.

All things was a good day.

Here, all the furniture is bought and built, I have cable and Internet again.  Here, the mold is contained, the heat is on.  I fixed the smoke alarm, I did laundry.  Here, life is as normal as it's ever been since the waters came.  Back on Staten Island, my house is still a hollow holiday afterthought - dark and barren.  I haven't received any money from insurance yet.  I haven't seen my neighbors in weeks, I haven't been back.  I'm trying to forget.  But you don't forget things that are important to you, even if the future is unknown.  You don't just drop a life you've invested in, even if the investment got sucker punched by a tropical storm.

Buttons is a reminder of that.  This would be a great time to get rid of him, the last connection to my ex-wife, to the failures, disappointments, and misgivings of the past few years.  Someone would take him in a heartbeat.  But there's no way.  I can't give up on him.  I can't give up on love anymore, even if it's coming from a needy little dog.  Because my dog's love is unconditional, even if it's complicated.

Buttons turned 4 on November 30th.  That was the day that volunteers from all over the country came to demolish my house, upstairs and down, a full month after Sandy had fairly well destroyed it.  What can I say about these people?  Strangers who showed up with crowbars and sledgehammers and went to work and didn't ask for a dime, not even a cup of coffee.  How can you possible repay them?  You can't, you shake their hands and say "I don't know how to thank you," because it's the truth - you don't.  All Hands Volunteers.  That's who helped save my ass, save my sanity, save me some significant money.  Giving them props here is not nearly enough, I have to find a way to pay their generosity forward, and I plan to.  2013 will mean a lot of volunteering for me, a lot of returning favors, a lot of expressing my gratitude.   A lot of giving back.  And in a lot of ways, it no longer feels like an obligation, it feels like something to look forward to.

While the walls were coming down, the floors torn up, the debris dumped out, an Asian dude from London who I had never met before named Tags, my friend Sean and I packed up a Sprinter Van full of my surviving Sandy stuff.  Of all the people in my world, these were the two dudes who helped me get it done.  Life is strange.

Sean and I took it all out of the house, cleaned the mold off of my bed frame, my dresser - everything upstairs took a saltwater bath up to the knees.  Anything electronic upstairs frizzle fried.  Some random things survived - my piano, my wine refrigerator (win!), those Logitech speakers that I lamented in a previous blog post.  They fixed themselves.  They dried out, they sound brand new.  Sometimes miracles happen.  Even if they're only minor ones, they're still miracles.  The speakers' restoration gives me hope that one day I'll be fully functional again, that my heart and my head will heal as well as the circuits and the wires.  That it's possible, at least.

That was November 30th.  They started tearing the house down at 9am and by 5pm, my surviving life was loaded into the new apartment.  Just another day at the office in the post-Sandy Twilight Zone.
It was just supposed to be Buttons' Birthday, and instead it was Demolition Moving Day.

October 31st was supposed to be Halloween, instead it was my first of 30 nights in a Bensonhurst refugee camp.  November 6th, I was supposed to run the NYC Marathon.  The following weekend I was planning to go away for a relaxing island getaway with a woman to celebrate 26.2 miles completed - the end of long journeys and the beginning of new ones.  I was cruising into the holidays with confidence and conviction.  I had a plan.  They say God laughs when we make plans.  He must have been having quite a chuckle at my expense this year.  Good one, Lord.

On Buttons' 3rd birthday, a year earlier, we were in the house alone.  My ex-wife had been gone for eight months, expelled from the trio we once were, and now it was just Buttons and I.  I was cooking in my nice modern kitchen, the kitchen I had built with my ex in mind, the kitchen with the nice fridge my ex-mother-in-law bought us and the nice black tile that I argued with the contractor about.  The kitchen that is now an empty shell in a dark, empty house.

I gave Buttons a huge marrow bone that night, made him give me his paw and play dead.  Buttons is very good at tricks, he's very smart even if he's very stubborn.  Like most dogs, instead of devouring the bone, he just carried it around for awhile, protecting it, hiding it.  He laid under the piano bench in the living room, as he often liked to, and gnawed at it as I worked on music and drank some red wine.  It was a regular Wednesday night in my post-divorce world, and it was okay.

All things was a good day.

Sometimes life was okay in the nine months after my separation, even if there was no woman in my life.  And mainly that was because of Buttons.  We were surviving together, we were learning to be a duo until we could be a trio again.  He was getting better, he could be better trusted around family and friends.  He was learning - struggling sometimes - to share me with others once again.  It wasn't perfect, but it had potential.

A year later, Buttons and I are surviving together again.  We're still learning.

Buttons may have already been broken when my ex and I got him from a breeder in Sarasota, Florida - I'll never know for sure.  We picked him up at the airport and for those first few months, it was really nice.  It distracted us from our own problems.  But eventually the bad fights resurfaced and this time Buttons was in the middle of them, this little white puppy cowering on the couch while we screamed at each other and got in each others face.  Buttons saw the worst of us when he wasn't bringing out the best in us.

After the hurricane, I asked my ex if she wanted Buttons back in her life.  Not so much for me, or even for her, but for him.  I've always felt bad for taking him away from her, and vice versa, but it was the collateral damage of a failed marriage.  My ex loved Buttons very much, she was a good mother to him.  Her love of animals was one thing that always made her shine as brightly as I could ever see her.

She declined my offer, gracefully.  She's afraid, and I totally get that.  Sometimes when it's over, it's over.  There's no going back.  But I had to offer, something inside me told me that I had to.  I wound up having some nice conversations with my ex as a result.  It was nice to know we could be civil, that whatever hard feelings between us had softened.  Maybe it was because of the hurricane, maybe it was because enough time had passed, maybe we both learned some things after all those fights and all that turmoil, after I decided I couldn't take anymore.

When I met my ex, she had a black cat.  Nilly was antisocial, she had bad dandruff and she shed like crazy.  She took to me quickly, as most animals tend to, and she soon became my cat, too.  When we brought Buttons home, Nilly had to make some adjustments, but they got along fine.  A year later, she got sick very quickly and we had to put her down.  I'd point to that moment, that night at the vet's with my ex, as one of the watershed moments of our short, troubled marriage - where we bonded over the loss of this poor creature together.  I will never forget it, and even recounting it now brings a few tears to my eyes.

Pet owners understand this bond, this non-human love that in many ways transcends our more problematic human connections.  Pet owners understand each other.

Buttons spent most of his 4th birthday alone, locked up in his pen at refugee camp.  He barked when I left for Staten Island in the morning to meet the volunteers.  He barked when I came back with strangers, quickly removing boxes and clothes from my Bensonhurst refuge.  He barked when I left him again to unload the van.  I returned late that night, sweaty and exhausted, and we went for a long walk.  I gave him treats and hugged him tight before collapsing on an air mattress.  It would be our last night in residential limbo.  Happy Birthday, kid.

My dog lost his house, the woman who took care of him.  He lost everything too.  He's had a hard life.  When I found this new apartment, I took Buttons with me.  I take Buttons everywhere I can.  We walked around the neighborhood, around a dog park a few blocks away.  At least four different people came up to say hello to him and he was a gentleman every time.  It was a good feeling.  It felt right.

Part of me thinks this is what will turn Buttons into a gentle soul full-time - apartment life, city life.  But another part is frazzled.  I worry about him all the time.  Every morning, when I leave the apartment for work, he barks.  If I lock him up to go out at night, he barks.  He stops after a minute or two, but he's sending a message.  Don't go.  Don't go, Ron.  But I have to have a life.  I found a neighborhood bar that allows dogs, I found him a boarder and I'm trying to get used to feeling at ease when he's out of my sight.  He needs socializing, he needs quality time with other people besides me.

When we were in Bensonhurst for a month, my friend Jason took us in.  Buttons has nipped him twice.  On one of the last days at refugee camp, I took Buttons to the park and Jason saw a different side of him.  He chased the ball and played with other dogs off the leash.  Some young kids in the schoolyard watched him run around, in awe.  They asked to pet him and I allowed it.  He was good, well-behaved.  Buttons is always good under my supervision.  Jason warmed up to Buttons a little more after that and it made me feel good about the future.  He may never be perfect, but he's fixable.

In that sense, Buttons is not unlike his master.  More than anything, he needs love.  He's nothing without it.  But he also needs to stand on his own two feet.  I came back from another underwhelming date last week, kept him locked up after hours so I could meet up with this girl, and he shoved his head into the crease of my elbow and closed his eyes.  He sighed heavily as I rubbed his belly.  I held him in my arms, cried over what I've lost these past few years, cried over what I've lost recently, what we've both lost.  It has been a bumpy ride.  But we're riding, still on this post-Sandy roller coaster, waiting for the next twist and turn, the next drop, the next adventure.

Whatever comes next, we'll keep surviving, keep learning.  We'll keep on running until we get to the finish line.  Until we find heaven.

Dec 17, 2012

Tonight I've Got Nothing

I started writing this afternoon, and I've got nothing.  I deleted it all.  Twice.  It's all negative, it's about the hurricane, about the terrible, heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, and most of all, it's about a girl.  It's always about a girl.

And I can't.  I won't use this space to point fingers, to lament, to send cryptic messages.  It's a waste of time.  She doesn't want you, Ron.  All the other stuff - the shitty secondary storylines, the ironies and the bad karma, the other characters involved - they don't matter.

She doesn't want you.  Stay away.

I've heard myself say that about two different women in my life over the past two years, and neither of them were my ex-wife.  I've heard every single person who knows and loves me give me the same advice, whether I wanted to hear it or not.  Move on.  She's not worth it.  It's tough love.  It makes you wonder about the choices you make, when you can't find a solitary soul out there who thinks you should fight.

There is another woman in my world who I have those butterflies for, who I've secretly admired for awhile now, and I will ignore her too.  Because I don't trust my romantic choices anymore, I don't know when to fight, or what I'm even fighting for anymore.  And I certainly don't trust women.  Romance has become a giant scar, like this stupid mole that started growing on the left side of my head last year.  I had it removed and it grew back, only bigger this time.  Some scars you can't cut out, some feelings you can't flip off like a light switch.  I'm not looking to save someone anymore, I'm looking to be saved.  My intentions are good, my heart is true, and I have a lot to offer.  I come equipped with a bow and an arrow.  But my aim has been way off.  So I'm putting mine away.

It doesn't matter that I will be without someone on Christmas, on New Year's.  It doesn't matter that this girl will have a ring on her finger by then.  It's already over.  This is just the shitty aftermath, plus a bonus shitty hurricane.  The hurricane taught me that I need to focus on what I have rather than what I don't have.  But somehow, the hurricane has always been secondary.  Even when it was happening, it was secondary to my broken heart.  But I'll still focus on what I have, and for a guy in my waterlogged shoes, I still have a lot.  I'm alive and I'm still in the game.  I still have a chance to find a mate, to figure it all out, to body slam this shitty part of my life.  I still have a chance to create opportunities.  It will happen.  Someone will recognize that no one else matters but me and I will reward her for it in spades.  I have to believe that, it's all I have left.

Be patient, Ron.  You've gotta be patient.  You'll have your day.  But not tonight.  Tonight I've got nothing.

This is such a scary and mysterious time in our collective lives, a holiday season marred by national tragedies.  But no matter what time of year it is, no matter how much bad shit has happened, life goes on.  And it's fragile times like these where the only sense of comfort - the only thing that matters - is having each other, having someone to hold on to.

If you are so fortunate to have that in your life tonight, make sure you hold on tight.  You never know when it might slip away.  For those of us not as fortunate.....tomorrow is another day.

Dec 7, 2012

Are You Enough For Somebody?

My grandmother died last Friday.

She was 93.  But she really died when she was 80 - when Alzheimer’s Disease started to creep in like a fog and rob her of her existence, of her ability to remember the things that are most important in life.

Grandma & Grandpa Scalzo
It’s really hard.  Life.  It is.  We are all struggling in some way all the time - the rich and the poor, the plain and the beautiful, the old and the young.  I look at what has happened in my life these past two years – losing love, losing faith in what I believed in, losing my house to a hurricane, and now losing my grandmother.  And you can’t deny that’s a pretty shitty hand.

But then I think of Grandma – Catherine Scalzo, or ‘Kitty’ as she was known amongst her family and friends – and those last empty thirteen years of her life and I don’t feel sorry for myself at all.  I’ll have my time – my “thing” – that gets me, too.  We all will.  It could be quick – like the snap of your finger – or it could be like Grandma.  I hope it’s the former.  But while I'm here, while I still have all my functionality, I need to find joy in my existence, to maximize its potential.

When I knelt before the casket at the funeral home – located, not coincidentally, on Staten Island, only a couple of miles away from my now-gutted house and still-dark-and-cold Sandy-destroyed neighborhood – I saw a framed photo of my grandfather.  It was in the casket with my grandmother’s body, along with my grandfather’s ashes.   Grandma’s eyes were closed, her hands clasped.  She was at peace now, resting near the ashen remains of her husband, Edwin Scalzo, or ‘Grandpa’ as I knew him.

And then there was this picture.  Grandpa was smiling his toothless grin and he was holding a balloon, right there to greet everyone who stopped by Grandma’s casket to say a prayer, remember her in their own way, or just be there to support the loved ones who lost her.

It made me think.  Are you enough for somebody?  What does it take to be someone else's everything?

I knelt there for a bit and instead of saying goodbye to Grandma, I was talking to Grandpa, looking at that picture of him.  Grandpa, staring back at me with his shit-eating grin and his fucking birthday balloon.  He looked like the world's oldest happy little kid.  I was never close with my grandfather, but I knew one thing about him from an early age – he lived his life the way he wanted to live it, and no one could stop him.  Not even his wife.  He was short in stature and he sounded like he had marbles in his mouth, but he was King George, he was The Little General.  He made his own rules and everyone else had to live by them.

Now when I say Grandpa lived his life the way he wanted to live it, I’m not saying that was a good thing.  Some would say it was an Italian thing, a man thing.  Most would say it was a very bad thing.  I don’t need to get into specifics.  Let’s just say that my grandmother had plenty of reasons not to like my grandfather, not to stay married to him - to hate him, in fact.   But she stayed, probably for her family, for her children.  Maybe for herself.  Life must have been hard for Grandma way before the sickness came. 

When I was a kid, my grandparents had money but my parents did not.  I never cared much about it then and I care even less now.  I was a rich kid in my own way, thanks to the love of my parents and the close-knit relationship I had with my Mom’s family.  That’s just the way it was for me growing up – the relationships on my Dad’s side were more distant and I can’t help but think that Grandpa’s lifestyle choices played a part in all that.  It played a part in everything related to that side of my family – the type of father he was, the type of husband he was, the type of relationship he had with his own kids and with their kids.

And I’ve got Grandpa genes in me.  I’ve got Grandma genes too.  They’re both gone, but their legacy lives on, in their children and their grandchildren.  Maybe Grandma was the hopeless romantic in my family.  Maybe I get it from her.  Grandma forgot most things when the Alzheimer’s took over – her kids, her grandkids – but she never forgot Grandpa.  My Dad says she was calling out for him in her final days, in her sleep.

It’s obvious that she loved my grandfather in spite of his warts, in spite of him wrecking her life in a lot of ways.  That’s probably why my elders saw fit to place his photo and his ashes in the coffin with her, to bury them together.  They were a package deal somehow.  But why?  Was that the best either of them could do?  I don’t know the answers, I wish I had a relationship with any of my grandparents where I could ask those “big questions,” likely getting answers that would uncover more layers explaining why I am who I am.

But they’re all gone.  Mad Cow Disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s.  Not a great legacy of genetics to leave behind.  The only one who died rather naturally – rather well – was Grandpa.  Maybe that’s why he’s smiling in that picture.  Maybe Grandpa got it right, knew something the rest of them didn’t – he lived his life his own way, he had his cake and ate it too, and he lasted the longest, maybe lived the fullest life of them all.

But Grandpa is not my role model, he never was.  He lived life his way, but it was the wrong way.  Your heart can’t be in two places at once.  It’s not fair to those you’re sharing it with, even tho you probably feel like you’re sharing it well.  It’s all or nothing, there’s no in between.

When we all left the burial to get a meal together – my aunts and uncles, my pregnant sister and my brother-in-law and I – my parents walked into the restaurant ahead of us.  They were arm-in-arm.  They were together.  Those two are my role models; they have always been that even when we haven’t seen eye-to-eye.  My parents were married in their early 20s, and by their mid 20s, they had two infant children.  35 years later, they are still enough for each other.  I have already lived a much different life than them – I’ve experienced divorce and heartbreak and hurricanes.  I’ve lost a lot.  But I haven’t lost them.  And they haven’t lost each other.  So again, even tho my couch is an air mattress and the dryer in my new apartment is broken and 50 grand worth of my life just went into the garbage, I consider myself lucky.  I consider myself rich. 

I can't judge my grandfather for being selfish or my grandmother for being weak for him.  We are all selfish.  We are all weak.  We are all human.  I am no exception, and I have likely exhibited those traits thanks to the legacy my grandparents left me, no less others like them.  Every family has its legacy of flawed people.  But I can’t blame them for my mistakes, I can’t blame genetics, I can’t blame anyone.  When my ex-wife and I would fight, I would always call her out on that – how after a certain point she was no longer allowed to blame her problems on where she came from - that it was time to take responsibility for her own self and her own actions, to reject the poisons of the past and use that knowledge of it to do whatever it took to not follow in the footsteps of the people who planted the seeds for who she could easily become.  It was time to grow up. 

And now I have to live by the same philosophy.  I don’t want to be that smiling old man in the photo – he’s happy for all the wrong reasons.  And I don’t want to be the woman in the casket, who went to the grave with all that baggage on her shoulders.  Who knows how much it truly weighed her down. 

Are you enough for somebody?  How hard do you have to try?  How much is enough? 

I still cried for my grandmother, still was sad for her, for my aunt and my uncles and especially for my Dad.  A loss is a loss.  You can’t bury the memories, but it’s the memories that make you feel the loss in the first place.  It’s ironic that the woman in the casket left this world not recognizing any of the people who came to mourn her passing on an unseasonably warm December morning, the people who she raised and loved and who loved her in return, the people she hadn’t remembered for a very long time.

I’m in a new place now, but I’m still in the Twilight Zone.  When a hurricane destroys your house, your grandmother’s not-so-sudden death seems like a footnote in comparison.  But it’s still a setback.  After I got home from the post-burial meal, I spent the night on the terrace of my new temporary apartment, cleaning mold and filth off more of my surviving stuff.  I still have no Internet, no couch, no rugs.  It’s cold.  My TV stand is an upside down milk crate, my traumatized dog is still figuring out where he is, my paranoia is in high gear as I leave for work every day wondering if he’ll get adjusted to apartment living.

Back on Staten Island, my house still sits in the dark, unlit, unheated, unattended.  The walls are all gone, the furniture, the insulation, the floors, the counter tops, the toilet bowl.  The mold is still there.  This is a long haul.  Work on the house likely won’t begin until after the holidays, perhaps even longer.  Too many setbacks.  I just want to be away from it all, to forget about that waterlogged part of my life.  But I can’t.  Because we’re all meant to struggle.  Struggling means trying to get away from things you can’t get away from, to get past them – a bad relationship, an addiction, a dead-end job, a tropical storm bitch slapping your home.  A broken heart.

This was the first thing I saw when I came back to the house after Sandy.  It had floated out to the side of the house.  Symbolism.
I sat out on my terrace the other night and looked out at the beautiful New York City skyline.  I drank a Brooklyn Pennant Ale, my Westie at my feet, and I thought – for the first time – about Christmas.  About putting some lights up, maybe getting a little tree and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch.  That still seems far away, but it was nice to even have that thought – to entertain it, thoughts about what most are thinking about now – the holidays.

Life was equally shitty for me this time last year, and for different reasons, but two weeks later, it changed.  Just like that.  It wasn’t shitty anymore.  It was wondrous.  And even if that was a fleeting moment, even if it wasn’t meant to turn into walking into a post-burial meal arm-in-arm together someday, even if it wasn't meant to have a future - it proves that life can change on a dime.  For worse but also for better.  You have to be ready for it; you have to accept the possibility of it.  You have to keep an open mind and an open heart.  You have to chalk up the bad days and look forward to the good ones.  Through all the confusion, the scars, the loss - through all this bullshit, I have done that.  I have an open heart, it’s just waiting to find its other half.  Waiting to be enough for somebody.  And I just have to keep healing, one day at a time, one day closer to normalcy.

One day closer to happiness.


Nov 30, 2012

Time Is The Great Healer

"Time is the great healer."

Ron's Doorbusters Sale!  Everything Must Go!  Into The Garbage! (not Garrett)
I remember my Dad telling me that after my breakup with Rachel.  She was my first real girlfriend, my first real relationship, my First Great Love.  Rachel was the first girl that made me step back and say to myself, "Dude, you don't deserve someone this awesome."  Yes, when I talk to myself, I call myself 'Dude'....

But I didn't really step back and realize how unworthy I was until after it was too late, after I had put a big crack in what Rachel and I had.  And by the time I desperately scrambled to do some serious masonry work, it was too late.  The crack had become too deep.  Relationships don't fracture like pavement does.  And sometimes repairs can never be made. 

This isn't about me lamenting Rachel, tho.  Believe me, I've done more than my share.  Just ask my friends, my family.  You can ask some of my other ex-girlfriends too.  They all know how hard that hit me.  Like a hurricane.  But I don't lament Rachel anymore - when the first girl you truly loved becomes a woman and marries another dude, moves away, and has twins with him, that's usually a good sign that it's time to stop the stalking.  Message received, gods of the universe.

This is where I would normally post a picture of Rachel and I, but I don't have any to post.  I got rid of all of them years ago.  I couldn't bear to look at them, I couldn't bear the memories.  But this isn't about Rachel.  I hope she's having a nice life.

This is about "Time is the great healer."

There are two items in my post-Sandy refugee camp that remind me of Rachel, a full decade after I last saw her, last cried on her shoulder, last looked her in the eyes and told her I loved her.  Two parting gifts, that stuff we float away with as the heartbreak rushes in like a flood.  For me, it's a 49ers fleece blanket and a Gap leather jacket - once-Rachel gifts, survivors of my Sandy carnage.  There are few artifacts of my past left, and tomorrow they will go onto a truck and into a new place to bear witness to my post-hurricane adventure.

It took time for me to get over Rachel - a lot of time - and even tho I no longer lament her, I still think about her a lot.  I still have reminders of her that have nothing to do with blankets and leather.  When I bake cookies, I think of Rachel.  She would store all her baked goods in Tupperware with a piece of fresh bread and some paper towels.  Both absorb the moisture in the container, keeping sweet treats soft and fresh, and so now I do the same.  Which makes me think of the time Rachel baked me some birthday brownies while she was away at college.  It was a surprise.  They showed up inside a Priority Mail box packaged in that same bread and paper towel filled Tupperware, and they were fucking delicious.  The Tupperware had a red cover.  Sometimes those 'little moments' are the ones that are etched into your consciousness forever.

Rachel and I had just started dating.  It was a long-distance relationship for awhile.  There was no Internet, at least in the way we know it, so gifts like that were especially thoughtful, and indicative of the type of girl she was and probably still is.  It was the first of six years' worth of meaningful gifts we would exchange, both material and spiritual, sexual and existential.

I still point to that time of my life - the post-Rachel fallout - 2002 - ten years ago, as my lowest point as a human being.  I was 27 and life as I knew it was over, forever changed.  My New Millennium lasted two years.  There were no hurricanes, no divorce papers, no loss of funds.  No one died.  But this was only happening to me, no one else.  My pain, my regret.  I was alone, and I have never felt more helpless.

My grandmother died of Mad Cow Disease a decade earlier.  I was 16, no one close to me had died or even gotten sick before that.  And then Nana went, in a way I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  I had chicken pox at the funeral.  And somehow losing Rachel was worse.  Because I shared my Nana's death, her suffering, with my closest people.  We got through it together.  The breakup was just me.  Sure, people were sad for me, sad to see her go.  But it's not the same, it's never the same except for the two people it's actually happening to.

My Sandy Situation reminds me of my Rachel Situation.  Yes, this happened to a ton of people in New York and New Jersey, people of all ages, all creeds, all shapes and sizes.  Just like breakups do.  Yes, some of the situations are much worse than mine, some much better.  But I'm enduring this hurricane situation - my situation - alone.  As a single man.  Because of my Rachel-related failure, because of my failed marriage, because of my recent romantic hardships.  This is where I was on the chessboard when the floods came.  I was a King without a Queen.  It's no coincidence, don't think that it is.

But Time is the great healer.

I'm moving tomorrow.  Two people volunteered to help me.  It's a Friday, it's the holidays, it's cold.  Moving sucks.  My house will be demolished in the morning and by the evening I'll be in a new place.  I still need a mattress, a couch.  I still need a lot of stuff.  I still need mold remediation.  I still need money from insurance, from the government.  And I haven't gotten a dime yet.  It's been a month.  ONE MONTH TODAY, UNCLE SAM.  And not a dime.  I still need hot water and electricity and gas and heat.  I probably went back to work too soon, but work is nuts this time of year, as it is in a lot of places that depend on the holiday season to drum up business, and I'm needed there.  I've already missed a dozen board shifts because of this storm, which would be enough to pay for the mattress and couch that I need, and Ryan Seacrest ain't givin' me any handouts.

Yes yes.  All of these things will be remedied in time.  Take your time, Ron.  You have to pack up your refugee camp tonight, call FEMA, make a half dozen more phone calls, make dinner, walk the dog.  But go ahead and take your time.  It will all be there tomorrow.

Fuck time.

Without time, there would be no timing.  Things happen to certain people in their lives based on where they happen to be and when, who they happen to be with and why.  Time sets it all in motion, keeps us on the grid.  I broke up with Rachel right after 9/11.  Bad timing.  I waited a month before realizing it was a mistake.  Too much time.  And it took me years upon years to get over her, to get over my mistakes, my poor choices, my bad timing.  Let me tell you - time is the mediocre healer, at best.

But timing is what put all those people in Seagate and Breezy Point and Staten Island and the Jersey Shore when Sandy came - people who dared to live near the water, including me.  For some, it was their time to drown.  For others, it was their time to lose someone they cared about dearly.  For me, it was about losing my house, and by my own economic standards, a small fortune in stuff.  But I'm here - to survive it, to reflect upon it, to learn from it, to endure it - day after day, minute by minute.  So I feel fortunate in many ways.  My timing could have been a lot worse.

Time means suffering in the present too - people suffer from all kinds of time-related trauma.  Getting sick, dealing with loved ones who are slowly dying, sitting in traffic, waiting on line at the Staples when all you've got in your hands is some fucking packing tape comeonalready.  Sitting through the commercials at the movies.  Waiting for your Big Mac.  Time can be a dick.

And that is why I'm in a rush to put all this behind me.  This is all a mad dash to the end of the calendar.  Time is like water.  It's like women.  It's my friend.  I need it.  But it's also my enemy.  It has hurt me.  So I'm moving into a nice pad, I'm not squatting down on some basement couch waiting for my Divorce Hurricane House to be reconstructed.  Waiting for more time to pass.  It's time to go.  Some people don't get that, don't get why I can't go back there - but some people haven't bought a house with a woman, lost that woman, lost faith, then lost another woman while in the same house, and then had the house destroyed by a hurricane.  I want someone to take a census and find another 37 year-old dude who endured the same damage I have in the same way and I will have some Jameson with that dude and we will talk for hours.

Sometimes the cracks are too deep.

So you decide what needs mending, or better yet, what's even amendable.  I need mending as much as my house does.  And I'm not waiting on stupid fucking time to help me.  The time is now.


I'll give myself this last month of mostly-shitty 2012.  I've earned it.  I'll allow myself one more month of recovery, one more month of struggle, only because no matter how strong I am, no matter how focused I want to be on growing rather than coping, I will have to deal with all the bullshit attached to losing your house to a hurricane.  I will have to deal with being responsible - with being responsible for being responsible.  I will accept this responsibility.  And then no more concessions.

I put myself in that house.  I broke up with Rachel, then I moved in with Lynda, then I broke up with Lynda, then I moved in with Melissa and we got married and bought the house.  I had all the money and I didn't wanna pay crazy property taxes and I wanted to live in a detached house where no one was above me or below me or on either side of me.  I wanted freedom, I wanted space, room to grow.  Room to run my record label, to make it bigger, to hire employees and feel good about them coming by and working.  We wanted the dog to have a back yard.  She wanted a vegetable garden, I wanted to live in a quiet neighborhood.  We wanted to entertain, to host holidays and gatherings.  We wanted to feel comfortable.  Safe.

Staten Island presented maximum opportunities for all of these things on our mutual and independent checklists at the most affordable price.  It wasn't the only house we looked at, not by a long shot.  We looked in Jersey, but my ex-wife did so only as a courtesy - "Jersey smells and I can't make a left turn."  True points, but every nation has its warts.  And we looked in plenty of other houses on Staten Island before settling in Zone A.  The house search became a stressful part of our relationship - I remember that process as one of the few times during our frequent brouhahas that my ex put her hands on me, screaming at me as I screamed back, the guy who she just married, the guy who was gonna buy her a house and give her a good life.  I saw the worst of her during those times.  Our relationship was already cracked and I still went ahead and bought the house.  Gotta stay positive, Ron.  I put her name on the deed so Obama would give us an $8000 tax credit as married first-time homeowners.  Gotta save save save!

In the months before the hurricane, that wound up being my last post-divorce duty - getting my ex-wife's name off the deed to the house that I had bought 99% of.  It was a process.  It took time.  It also cost money.  The week of the hurricane, I was notified that the house was now fully in my name.  Congratulations Ron, this Divorce Hurricane House is now all yours.  All mine.  The house I put myself in, and the destiny I created for myself.

Timing.  I have terrible timing.   The last relationship I was in, the one that gave me hope again, ended a month before the hurricane.  She wanted to keep it going but I could sense she was checked out and then I caught her in some lies so there was no point in continuing.  It ended badly, with yelling and accusations and hurt feelings.  We cancelled a lot of plans because of it, a lot of nice ones.  If I didn't catch her, if I didn't sense something amiss and rightfully dismiss her because of it, we would have still been together, even if not in the way we were supposed to be.  I would have likely been with her when the waters came, together and safe.  But I wasn't.  She was already back where I knew she'd be.  The hurricane could have made what we had stronger, I would have had her to lean on, and she, being the generous spirit that she was - at least when she was focused on being that for me - would have been there for me.  The hurricane would have brought us closer together, who knows how close.

But that's not what happened.  I am enduring this alone.  I was probably meant to.  We'll see.  Only time will tell.  Good ol' fucking time.

And it all started with that first bad breakup, waiting on time to get me all healed up, waiting to see if someone else would make me forget her - if it would justify that loss, would explain it.  Why did my relationship with Rachel take so long to get over?  Plenty of reasons.  But the biggest one was 9/11.  Rachel and I were together in my apartment when it all went down.  She had slept over and I had overslept and we were in my bed when my father called and left a message on my answering machine hoping I was okay since he knew my daily commute to work frequently went thru World Trade Center.  Apparently my timing is good when it comes to nearly averting destruction.  So far at least.

We watched the towers go down on TV together.  Rachel was very affected, very emotional.  That moment and the months that followed should have brought me closer to Rachel, should have put me down on one knee and into the rest of our life together, but I choked.  I wasn't feeling it.  I was this romantic guy who was in a great relationship and who had struggled with shyness and insecurity and rejection before this six year gift was given to me, and I felt empty inside.  I knew I was supposed to be feeling differently, and I wasn't.  I was too numb, I was too confused just like everyone else in New York City.  I was afraid.  So I fled.  I fled Rachel and I fled sanity and I tried to ignore the guilt I should have felt, and it was all a big mistake.

The most disastrous, tragic thing any American peer of mine, of my generation, any New Yorker has ever witnessed or experienced had just happened - and I ran away.  How could I ever blame her for not getting back to where she needed to be to make it work?  She took me back, but it was never the same, and three months later it was over forever.  She told me she had butterflies and now they were gone.  I didn't understand.  But I understand now.  I understood when I asked for a divorce, probably truly understood for the first time.

Some other guy's life, some other guy's house, some other guy's holiday season
And then it was just me n' Sandy.  No ex-wife, no ex-girlfriends, no one else.  Timing was to blame.  Choices were to blame.  The women were to blame too, they don't get a fucking pass here.  They played their part.  But ultimately, the person most responsible for my Sandy Situation is the one recounting it.  Me.

And I accept the responsibility, I'll take the blame.  I deserve this, even if most of you probably think I don't, and maybe a few of you think I do (?).  In an almost odd way, I needed this hurricane.  Certainly not the aggravation that goes with it, not the heartache of losing almost all of my really cool, once clean-and-dry stuff.  Definitely not that.  But I need an excuse.  I need a reason to kick ass.  I can't let it break me.  I can't lose any more than I already have.  The failed relationships weren't enough anymore.

If it's not time that does the trick, failed relationships are healed more immediately by television and lots of jerking off.  I can tell you that there is little time for either when you are a hurricane refugee.  I miss my shows and I'm horny as fuck.  It's not just my utilities that are down.  But I'll have it all back.  In time.  The house - to sell or keep.  I'll have a social calendar.  I'll buy new stuff, whatever of it truly needs to be replaced.  I'll catch up to American Horror Story and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  I'll jerk off plenty.  But the rest has to change.  It has to.

No more living with regrets, no more living in the past.  I recognize that I didn't make a commitment to being the best I could until I got married, and then the poison in that marriage gave me an excuse to stop trying.  Then I got divorced and told myself I had to do even better.  And I almost got there with a good woman by my side.  Almost.  Because I haven't done better.  Not better enough.  But you can't give up.

So I've got to make a beeline towards happiness, towards accomplishment, towards mental health.  I'll go on runs with my nutty dog and start creating again.  I'll go out on some more dates - some of them will be shitty and that will be fine, it's part of the game.  I found a new treadmill, heavier weights to conquer.  I'll stay in shape and finish the Marathon stronger than I ever would have if Sandy never showed up.  I'll get back on a stage, back in a band, or I'll decide once and for all that those things don't matter enough.  I will be a better friend, a new uncle, a happier person.  I'll go skydiving and I'll get my ass to Europe.  I'll discover new passions.

And I won't be alone.  Not for long.  I know me.  I know what I need.  And I know what I have to do to be ready.  Some of that I can control, the rest is up to fate.  The rest depends on timing.  Finding a woman is easy.  Finding the right woman is hard, finding the right one at the right time is borderline impossible, and it gets no easier as you get older.  Finding a good man is no less difficult, I'm sure.  That's why women rush into shit, they get scared, they shift their focus, they settle.  Shitty, unromantic men play their roles.  I get that. 

But I don't want a woman who's in a rush, even if she loves me.  If you love me, take the journey with me slowly.  Savor it.  Time can be a friend when you're happy.  When you're happy, there is no greater ally than time.  But being happy means spending time with someone, finding love and being committed to common goals.  Bad shit will happen to me again, and when it does, I can't be alone.  I can't.  I have a gift that needs to be given, but it has to be received by the right person, otherwise it's just wasted energy.

Until then, allz I gots is time, and plenty of it.  I feel lucky to be in this situation even if my mind and heart are still stinging, my back still sore.  I'll stretch, I'll recover, and I'll hold someone tight again.  I'm healthy.  I'm young.  I haven't peaked yet, Sandy.

I'm ready for anything.