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Dinner with Annie

The drive is only about 20 minutes, but those minutes might as well be years as you head south on the interstate toward Ottawa, Kansas.

The rings of suburban houses and strip malls fade away and all that’s left are pastures, distant barns and the occasional roadside antique mall.

We turned off at the first exit – our car slowing to a crawl after traveling close to 80, legally, on the road – and turned left at the first stop light onto Main Street that leads “downtown.” On either side of the road are two strips of two-story, brick buildings 150-plus years old with window faces and narrow front doors.

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Street Logic

I met them at the corner between my house and where they live with their mother. The distance between our homes is no more than 250 feet, but our streets are divided at the intersection and we can’t see each other’s properties.

He needed his baseball bag for practice the next day as well as his pants and cleats. They’d been sitting in his room since last week when his team had practiced on my night with the children.

He called first to arrange for me to drop them off at his house in the morning, but I invited him to come to my house to get them and then decided to meet him halfway.

I slung his bat bag over my shoulder and stepped out into the night carrying his pants on a hanger. I walked out onto my front lawn and turned to my left and saw his silhouette coming out of the front door of the house where I used to live. I could see from that distance that his hair was wet and slicked back from his nighttime bath. Behind him I saw his sister moving around as though she were helping him with something on their front porch. Then she turned to walk back in the house and I saw the screen door start to close behind her.

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The gift of another day

When I turn into town off the interstate, the sun is almost all the way gone. A Tuesday-night-brilliant-round-light burning between the shadows of a gas station and department store. I keep on driving not letting it sink in: I missed a whole day in this world again.

I pulled away in the half-light, before the sun is all the way up, leaving my kids back here in the trust of their schools. The big house I just bought for them empty and silent except for the sound that pumps through the heat registers into lonely rooms. Every night, I can’t wait to come home and close the door and lock out the threats of my life. I cook an easy dinner on brand new appliances, which seems like a waste for just me.

You know, it’s better when a man just doesn’t think. Our sun is supposed to waste away. For a man, like my father, a day spent in toil and trouble was just another day to make a wage. He thought it was fair, and I can’t argue with that. But me? I have a nice, comfortable job in a building a few blocks from downtown. I walk in quietly and walk out rich with the reward of surviving to work tomorrow.

So what’s a life like when it drowns in this reality of days? Will you ever cash in your love? Will your dreams ever find you in the night?

What finds a man is the truth of his life — and sometimes, the promises of another lover who’s been broken. She says she wants you to take hold of her and run … straight into to a future that her previous man couldn’t find. “All I want is a man who will make decisions,” she says. She had a guy before too weak to make choices. “A real man can do things around the house, drink with me after the kids are in bed – and maybe hold me down and my love one night, but still be there … sensitive enough to listen.” Her expression turns to a fantastical dream (a strong man stopping her on the stairs one night, leading her by the hand into the living room dark and twirling her in a dance.)

Worn down from our work lives and failed loves, most of us are unfeeling simpletons, preoccupied with hunting a place for ourselves in the space between their legs. We’re stupid sitcom dads who pretend to be in charge (and the few of us who don’t play along are out.) And worst of all, there’s no hope on the way. The last few generations of boys are lost before they’ve even started.

Love still trumps our loneliness, though. At age 20-something, you find each other and convince yourself it’s right. And for a time, it couldn’t be better. You take a job. You work in a factory. On the highway. Or you work in a high rise. And you work in your living rooms at night, trying to listen to the problems of her day.

But our minds are messes. And all we can think about is putting our bodies together with them in our bedrooms before it happens – when the night turns to the gift of another day.

40

In the last few weeks before my 40th birthday, I find myself in the most interesting place I’ve ever been creatively. My view of the world is tempered by a great sense of hope and my own dismal failures. I finally have real pain, memories I want to forget, actions I want to take back, love I gave away and that will never be returned. And while this all might sound negative, writing has always been a joy for me in my struggle – a  dependable happiness that is in its way the most beautiful thing in life. Writing is about hardness, coldness and being alone. I am finally in a place where I realize life has paradoxes – it has a lot of them. I’ve got to live with them. And so do you. What’s beautiful around us can only stand out when there’s some hurt.

Wearing down

I have heard many other writers and musicians say over the years that artists do their best work from places of pain. I haven’t had many painful places in my life that haunt me. I have mostly been able to make it through life without stumbling into too many traps, but now I have people to hide from, emotions to try to ignore, and pain that wakes me at night. I have met so many people in the last four years since my divorce, both men and women, who have horrific stories to tell about love gone bad — mates who did the unthinkable to them. After awhile, it starts to wear on you.

When I was newly divorced and first began hearing what happened in other people’s lives, I appreciated my own story and how things ended in my own relationship. But now I see it as part of this collective pain, joined with all the terrible happenings in the lives of the lost. I can’t describe how this happened, but it’s depressing in its own right. I’m beginning to see the world for what it is: a fallen place that we can only hope to escape while causing a minimal amount of harm to the people we love — and the ones we want to, if they will let us.

 

 

Portions from a spiral-bound, superhero notebook

Written May 8, 2014

Saved from my sin on a spring afternoon in the most common of houses in a forgotten Bethlehem. I came from nothing – from much less, actually – just to reach this point. A few months ago, I was as far away from the Lord as a human soul could be. I had renounced Him in conversation, claiming pride for being independent, a non-believer. I was boastful in my blaspheming. And a week later, He filled my body with his spirit and love. I changed overnight in the immediate sort of transformation that’s been promised to us all who truly believe. My outlook changed and the life I had before didn’t belong to me anymore. The ungodly acts that brought me pleasure suddenly didn’t. I looked at my life with more appreciation than I ever had before. My beautiful kids and even the life that led me to divorce – all those mistakes, I loved and cherished. I would have never found the path I was walking without them.

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