“Hey, hey, it’s the static age. Well, this is how the west was won…”
I didn’t know who she was, but she told me her name was Michelle and she went to my high school. She was a friend of Teddy’s. He had given her my phone number because she was nervous about making friends at a new school. She said she liked Teddy and that maybe she’d like me. Starting ninth grade felt like the first season of a spin-off sitcom that I didn’t want to be on; contractual obligations met with poor managerial choices, is how I’d have envisioned myself explaining it in some career spanning interview years later– ninth grade felt like a real low point. I didn’t know anyone outside of friends from elementary school, cast members the invisible producers decided to keep around, and everyone else was Saved by the Bell: The New Class (1993).
I knew there would be girls, and while this idea was tantalizing, it was like seeing a painfully inaccessible item on the first screen of a Legend of Zelda (1986) game. Even if it appeared to be obtainable, the methodology behind its retrieval was buried in an issue of Nintendo Power (1988) that I didn’t have; dull, aching frustration. Michelle’s phone call was that tantalizing item. I found her at her locker the next morning. We never spoke again.
My eighth grade teacher explained to us, separated from our female peers, that it’s okay to masturbate. That we shouldn’t feel shame- that it’s normal human behavior. Later, on the playground, we collectively processed this information; we were uncomfortable. We accused one another of being masturbators. Each boy denied this accusation with vehemence; each boy except Teddy. Teddy stood with defiance; he refused to engage; he thought talking about it was “gay.” He would neither confirm nor deny his status as masturbator. Later that night- in a remote part of town, behind the neighborhood water tower, where a teenager could explore the night time world without invasive eyes- in the shadow of an older brother’s car headlights, a struggle session took place. Dave was never happy with the unresolved. Things got tense. Knowledge of truth’s existence will demand its reveal by way of invisible forces and self-perpetuating inertia. Even still, Teddy refused to budge. Later that night we listened to Metallica while looking at his collection of Playboy magazines.
“Hey Mama, look at me, I’m on my way to the promised land…”
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I assure you, the story I’m about to tell you is true- all of it. Every small victory. Every little triumph. Every lesson learned. Every mistake made. Every misdeed cast. Every bit of bullshit. Every lie. Every defeat. Every disappointment. Every heart broken. Every tear shed. Everything I’m about to share with you, it all happened. It’s all true- all of it.
Impossible for you to know the emotional toll telling you this story has taken. The long days and endless nights, restlessly searching for the right words, in the right order; hoping it makes sense; hoping to be seen. Restlessly searching for meaning; enduring moments of despair; intense bouts of frustration; fists against the wall. Desperate to be understood.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, submitted for your scrutiny and judgement, this is my story- this is my life- and I am proud to share it with you; proud to announce the release of my very first book.
“If you close the door the night could last forever”
It’s okay to do nice things, Blair explained. She had made a reservation for the afternoon at a winery operating on a working beef farm. Anything pretentious would be tempered by a kind of rustic authenticity. They’ll have cows, she told me.
Although it can be managed, it’s impossible to entirely diminish feelings of hesitancy in a struggle that I can only assume is similar to the misnomer of the recovering drug addict– the same wishful thinking involved- that one can ever, successfully, erase the footprint- bust the ghost… thoughts wander; compulsions linger restlessly. There is no recovery for true addiction.
“…but will the morning headlines even say that it’s a shame?”
They’re all liars, she told me, all of them. While we had spoken a few times, only through text, in the years since things had come apart violently, I finally chipped away at Jennifer enough for a phone call. Years had passed, and maybe the resulting body image issues- collateral damage from getting off on calling her fat- had faded enough for the sound of my voice to be somewhat less nauseating. Or maybe it was the mid-August blues; five months into quarantine and just about any option seems great- a fact that I greatly benefitted from over the summer- but even if I had been excited to catch up with Jennifer formally, this wasn’t what I was expecting.
It’s the same thing every time, she told me. It’s an act, the whole thing; it isn’t real. The eye contact, the pursed lips, hands in the hair, the inflection in tone- “baby, baby…” She’ll pick up on this and mimic it back to me- same eye contact, same pursed lips: “baby, baby…”
When you’ve lived what feels like a thousand lifetimes compared to the high school sweethearts; you’ve figured out every bit of the female algorithm- missile launch codes carved into your skull like the password to skip to Mike Tyson; right to the bedroom; right to true love, scientific discovery at the price of normalcy; at the price of family.
At the price of outliving your parents- at least numerically. Without anything else- anything to provide perspective- the single man will either self-destruct in addiction or grind himself into the ground; defiance, on the road to decay; defiance in the face of genetic limitations- trying to get muscle car performance out of an economy class. Your parents were shopping on a budget- who knew how bad things would get?
“The ghosts that roam this house, like winter air right through our souls.”
You don’t have to write about my stairs, she said, and we can only be friends if you stop hurting my feelings. I didn’t have to be in the room to know what Nancy’s eyes would have looked like- desperate to hide the depth of her vulnerability- but like every other time, no matter how hard she tried, the way she looked at you betrayed her. This was what made you fall in love with her. She stopped talking to you when you posted the piece about her house- her house as a metaphor for every bit of hurt, every battle scar, every coping strategy and defense mechanism; walls and coldness- circles that needed squaring. Parts of her life to be compartmentalized; some locked-away, some delicately framed with self-talk.
There are moments in life, however brief, that an unspoken sentiment is shared by so many that it becomes an energy unto itself- the kind of energy that’s propelled nations to fight wars and outsider candidates to win elections. At the end of the decade, professional wrestling- fans, wrestlers, and promoters- had something to prove. It wasn’t enough to kindly explain to the uninitiated that despite the predetermined nature of match finishes that this shit- the battering taken on the bodies of performers- was, actually, far more real than anyone knew. To chase the respect of those who will never care, violence needed to be amplified.
The rise of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) may have been the direct result of this coalescence of energy. The convergence of two deeply felt sentiments: that a) professional wrestling was embarrassing because it was fake and the wrestling fan was an idiot for not understanding this, despite gladly acknowledging it any chance they had, and b) all those working in professional wrestling were performing on a show for children. The idea behind ECW was that they would explicitly define their show as one for adults, with a hard-R rating, and use profanity, sex, and violence as a means to achieve this end.
“Whoever thought you’d be better at turning a screw than me? I do it for my life. Fuck yeah!”
You’re just like Delicious Tacos, he told me. He was messaging me for advice. Girl problems- but, more than that too, he said. His life felt empty. He was lacking direction; depression, anxiety. There’s something about my writing that suggests I could offer intervention- a quick series of bullet points or if/then statements. Something about my writing that’s aspirational.
I’m willing to believe this. Despite my failures which I’ve grown comfortable sharing with strangers, I’m a happy and centered person. I have positive habits- and even if my addictive personality will merely cut and paste beneficial habits in place of those destructive and pursue them with the same psychotic vigor, they’re at least theoretically contributing to my overall health and well-being. I read and write regularly. I lift weights and take long walks. I meditate and enjoy stillness. I love nature. I believe in God.
“Row like a felon, drown like a captain’s son. But say, how long can this go on?”
The goal is a clear stretch of highway long enough to keep your cruise control set at seventy-eight. Detach from the minutia of traffic while feeling connected to the reality of journey– wheels groping pavement, cutting through morning air. Not only does your attention to speed management ultimately save on gas mileage, but more importantly it provides space to sharpen the mind/body connection that’s crucial for when you walk into work at 6 a.m.- each motion light clicking to life as you pass- to sit at your desk and write in a spiral-bound notebook for twenty-five minutes before starting your work for the day.