Feb 7, 2013

Don't Blame Yourself

I lost it yesterday.  Broke down in front of two of my co-workers, my friends.  I held back on the train ride in.  Barely.  But by the time I got into work, two hours later than I had planned to arrive, I could no longer keep it together.  My relationship is on its last legs, and I have the hurricane to blame.  I have circumstance, timing, The Way My Life Turned Out to blame.  And of course, I have myself to blame.  But just like with everything else that has happened in my life these past two years, everyone keeps telling me this:  What's done is done.

Don't Blame Yourself.

I've done my share of screaming and crying at work these past few years, behind those soundproof glass doors and in my boss' office.  Most of it was about my ex-wife.  I remember breaking down in Elvis' office the first time I knew I needed to get out of my marriage, the first time I dropped the D-bomb out loud.  My boss and I don't hang on the weekends, we're not best buddies.  But somehow he has been there through this whole mess, a blessing and a savior, and a kind ear.  My co-workers have borne witness to these tough times in my life, and I sense that strange combination of pity and admiration whenever I'm around them.

Two months after I was hired to work on the morning show, my uncle died in a car wreck.  I was married a month later.  Two years after that, I was ready to pull the plug.  That's when the first screams were heard, the first tears were shed.  That's just the way it has gone.  It was a mistake.  After the divorce, I swore aloud in a co-worker's studio:  "I'm not gonna be The Damaged Divorce Guy." 

And I wasn't.  I was keeping it together.  If anything, my life was better.  Calmer.  By last summer, I was emerging from the darkness and into the light.  I was training for the NYC Marathon, I was dating a beauty, I was happy, I was healing.  And then the last five months of my life happened and I wound up worse off than The Damaged Divorce Guy could have ever imagined.  Now The Damaged Divorce Guy looks at me and wipes his brow and says "Shit, at least I'm not him."

The relationship I'm talking about, the one that brought me to tears yesterday - and not for the first time - is with my dog.  Buttons.  I've recounted my saga with my loyal Westie in this space, and since then he has taken a major turn for the worse.  I dropped 500 bucks at the vet last weekend so they could run a bunch of tests to tell me that nothing is physically wrong with Buttons.  He's the picture of perfect health, he's just nuts.

It's my dog's head and his heart that are damaged, and I suppose I can relate.  After all, my dog and I have experienced the same separations together - from people we cared about and from the house we lived in.  It has been a fucking adventure of epic proportions.

When Sandy came, it made a manageable situation quite unmanageable.  Starting right after the holidays, my dog wouldn't let me leave the apartment without wailing.  Classic separation anxiety.  Buttons has to be alone so I can go to work, so I can have a life.  A girl comes to my apartment five days a week and watches Buttons.  He has bitten her three times.  This girl's name is Ilana, she's a Park Slope hipster chick with a nose ring who loves to sketch, read comic books, listen to heavy metal and watch Law & Order.  She also loves dogs.  She's sticking with Buttons even while I consider turning him into sausages. 

But in spite of Ilana's sacrifice, I still can't deal with my dog biting people, even if he has restricted his bad behavior to when I'm not around.  It stresses me out.  So Buttons is in full-on rehab right now.  It's sink or swim for my dog, and he's on his last life preserver.  It reminds me so much of my divorce, this situation.  About how I tried everything to make my marriage work and it just didn't.  I invested more money and time into it, I preached positivity in the face of hopelessness, and in the end, I still wanted out.  It's costing me a small fortune - behaviorists, babysitters, medications, muzzles.  You try to stay patient, you try to convince yourself that this can be fixed.  Through the tears and the deep breaths, you look at it as just another obstacle that needs to be overcome.  Surviving a superstorm will put the rest of your struggles into perspective, I can tell you that.

This used to be my music studio.
Then there is the existentialist in me that sees the dog as this final piece of the shitty part of my life.  That he has to go before I can truly be reborn.  I've wrestled with this for awhile.  He's just a dog.  And that's what brings the tears, envisioning life without him.  It's another familiar feeling, feeling the void of someone's departure.  Because I love the little fucker and I want him to be okay.  I want him to emerge victorious just as I want myself to.  I feel like his only shot to be a good dog is with me in his life.  I want to do it together, I don't want to give up.

Dealing with the worst parts of my life isn't the problem, tho.  It's not sharing the best parts of my life - the running and the exercise, my adorable baby nephew, the music and the piano playing, the food and the wine - that hurts more.  It lessens their impact a little, experiencing them alone.  That vital piece that would change everything, change how all these shitty situations - the damaged house, the demented dog - could unfold, it's still missing.  Partnership.  I haven't taken a vacation in four years.  I need to have ridiculous meaningful sex on a tropical island, I need to get into a studio and scream, I need to dance close to someone, I need a fucking massage.

Instead, I cried at work, drew some more tears from the well.  I'm a sensitive guy, man.  Too sensitive sometimes.  It's just my nature, and in a lot of ways, it's also my dog's.  You can't unlearn being sensitive.  You just learn how to keep the mask on tighter and longer.  The best you can hope for during times like these is that you learn how to handle it outwardly even if your house is fucked, even if your dog is a loon, even if you still spend your days burning for someone inside.

You have to live.

Are you familiar with The Book of Job?  It's a famous Bible story in which a prosperous man is abandoned by God and loses everything.  Satan tests Job to see where his faith lies, to see how deep it truly rolls.  And in spite of losing all he once possessed, in spite of all his suffering, Job never considers God less than a homeboy.  He never reproaches the same entity that blessed him with all that is now gone.

Because blessings - life's gifts - they're fleeting, they're rare.  You can't ever take them for granted, toss them aside, or you will lose your way in this world.  Trouble will find you no matter how much you think you can avoid it.

That was me just a few short months ago, trying to set my moral compass.  Making excuses for being weak and taking the gift I was given for granted.  I was looking to be handed the answers instead of making my own.  This gift wasn't perfect, but nothing is perfect.  It still had the potential to be amazing, to be the most fulfilling part of my life.  And it was always up to me to get it right.

And I did it.  I got myself right - and it's fucking amazing how easy it has been, especially in consideration of all that God has taken away from me.  And I didn't do it because of the hurricane.  I got right because of love - because I felt like I didn't deserve it unless I felt truly worthy of it.  Maybe that's not the case.  Maybe I would have lost it no matter how good or bad a guy I truly am.  But I got right, and I've stayed right, and I believe that if and when love finds me again, I'll be worthy.

But I'm no Job.  I'm just Ron.  I have no festering sores.  That mole on the side of my head that grew to resemble a chocolate chip last summer?  It's gone.  It fell off.  The pain, the rashes in places they didn't belong?  Gone.  I'm still blessed with many things - my family, my career, my health.  So why the fuck do I deserve anything more than that?  Isn't that enough?  Doesn't that make up for the heartbreak, the wacko dog and the dark, moldy house?

Yes and no.

Because I believe that this is all a test.  Life is a test, always.  You make certain decisions that mold your destiny - you recognize the good ones and you learn from the bad ones.  I have learned from my mistakes, I have grown.  I have retired my worst habits and tempered the bad ones.  I have taken the fire of my failures and used it to fuel my spirit which in turn fuels my body.  I have dedicated myself to being a better person, a stronger man.  And I look at my suffering as an eye-opening blessing, an opportunity.  Because it could be so much worse even if it could be so much better.

So now I no longer do anything half-assed, and that includes getting my crazy dog fixed.  You can't put a Band-Aid on a bloody stump and expect it to heal.  I dedicated the first month of this year to fixing myself - looking my best, feeling my best.  I finally got through all of my Sandy-survived clothes and half of them no longer fit.  I'm a shirt-filling Medium now instead of an undersized Large, and that's perfect.  Not too big, not too small.  Just right.  When you run as much as I do, you can't afford to look like this:

Steroid user
Running keeps me sane, it's an hour-long escape from all this madness.  I lift my weights, but I want the physique of Bruce Lee.  I want to be lean, toned and flexible.  Running has cost me half of my wardrobe (who wants to go shopping??) but it has doubled my confidence.

My curl bar and my pushup bars survived the storm and I've taken that as a sign and put them to work.  I hit the gym after my runs now instead of hitting a pipe.  I eat cucumbers for lunch and edemame for dessert.  On the days I cheat, I just run harder and longer.  I'm discovering my abdominal muscles.

Now it's a new month and I'm maintaining my drive while I still struggle to turn away from love, my fickle mistress.  You can't turn it off, you can only temper it for so long before it boils over.  So you keep that mask on tight, you keep pretending that it doesn't matter even when you think it's all that matters.  You try to unlearn being who you are just so you can stay sane. 

Damn you, Leonard Bernstein.
You try to free yourself of the little hope you're hanging on to because you recognize that some things are no longer up to you.  And you've got enough shitty stories already.  So you wait for the bad news and you brace yourself to struggle with it forever.  It is what it is.  You go on dates even if your heart isn't in it because that's what you're supposed to do.  You run alone and you run like a beast.  You do more pushups and you keep being honest with yourself about who you are and what you need to get you through the day.  Maybe it's not supposed to be love.  We all second-guess ourselves, we all have our reasons.

But I don't blame myself.  I should be enough, and if I'm not, then I'm not.  I said it all, I confessed my sins, I did what I had to do.  I know what I have to offer, and if the lights ever go down behind me and the Al Green cranks up in my brain the next time a girl walks into my world, I will dedicate myself to being enough, always and forever.
But love and I are on probation.  Healing is the order of the day.  The house, the dog, my heart.  Being happy.  I'm happy with myself for the first time in a long time even if I'm not satisfied with the current circumstances in my life.  I'm finding my way, I'm turning down sex (yes, guys do that too - well...some guys), I'm taking it one day at a time.  I'm repenting.

That doesn't mean I don't feel what I feel, but they're useless feelings if they're not met halfway.  I'll wait for it to happen.  And until then, I'll keep my head as best I can.  I'll keep the faith.  Bad things happen to good people, but good things happen to them too.   In the end, God returned to Job and bestowed him with more wealth and happiness than he had before all that suffering.  There can still be a pot o' gold at the end of my shitty rainbow.

We all deserve the right to fight for our own destiny, but you have to let all the bullshit go.  You have to.  Just do the best you can.  I look in the mirror now and I don't point fingers.  I look in the mirror and I like the bald romantic idiot staring back at me.  I recognize that I'm fixed, that I'm no longer to blame for what happens next.  That I'm giving my all even when I'm struggling, with a clear conscience.  I'm pure, I'm guilt-free.  I have seen the light and I'm running in the right direction, straight towards it.

The rest will fall into place.

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