Thursday, May 12, 2016
If the Shoe Fits, Choke on It: An Open Letter Three Years On
Three years will have passed on May 18th -- half the span of her short life -- and the heartbreak of losing Roo has not lessened. I wouldn’t want it to, so this is in some ways a self-fulfilling observation. But I’m not really buying that. Purposefully wallowing doesn’t have anything to do with my inability to heal. You just don’t heal from this no matter how positive your attitude is or isn’t.
The loss of my daughter, in fact, is easily the defining moment of my life. Other milestones good and bad -- graduations, marriages, divorces (yes, plural, as I am perhaps a more flawed being than many), hirings, firings, passing the bar, squatting 600 pounds, the upcoming publication of my first book -- all pale in comparison.
Don’t get me wrong, that 600 squat was damned sweet, and I’ll tip a glass in celebration of that one anytime you want. That was a fine day; a day shared with a few very good friends that should be celebrated over and over. I just don’t relate to anyone who says they had a feeling of disappointment on reaching a long sought after goal. I had none of that; only elation that persists to this day when I think about that wonderful moment in time a few short weeks before I had any inkling of the coming storm.
That’s my high water mark, and I couldn’t care less who thinks it’s a dumb one. I was a cockstrong motherfucker that day. I was turning the corner on a mess I made for myself, or so I thought. When Mike whispered in my ear that today was the day, not tomorrow or any other day, and that I should go out and take what I had worked so long for, I believed him and I seized the moment in one of those rare instances when the stars were all aligned just right. That some may not get it makes me savor it all the more.
Don’t fool yourselves; we all have that high point and it’s not always somewhere out there in the future. Sometimes it already happened. You can kid yourselves if you want, but I speak the truth. This doesn’t mean things that happen in the future can’t be good; they’re just not going to eclipse that one great thing.
A 655 deadlift last summer for a 25-pound PR as an old man… yep, that was pretty fucking cool and worth a drink of its own. I did it with the support of some really awesome folks, too. But it ain’t a 600 squat in a meet with three who were there for the entire training journey -- Gallagher, Wills, and McCammon -- cheering you on.
And you ain’t going home to hug your precious daughter, tell her what a bull daddy was today, and celebrate with ice cream instead of a drink. In case we’re not clear -- and I'm really talking to myself here -- that will never, ever, EVER happen again. Let that knife sink into your belly good and deep.
As if it wasn’t in deep enough, I took a picture of her lying there in her casket in her little Warehouse Mouse t-shirt. I wanted to feel every ounce of pain; I still do. Pain like that and the sort of love we had go hand in hand.
Mary found a seamstress who sews these custom shirts and sent her a picture to see if she could duplicate this goofy mouse character Roo loved. She did a fantastic job, sewing a mouse with bright orange, fuzzy hair that stuck out from the fabric in sort of a three-dimensional rendering. Roo was so proud of that shirt; I’d catch her patting her mouse on her tummy when she wore it. I’ll share a picture of the mouse, but I’ll spare you the casket.
The few family members who knew I was considering taking a picture of Roo after she passed advised me not to -- that I wouldn’t want to remember her that way -- but I took it anyway. I knew there’d be no more pictures to take, and this last morbid shot was the best I was going to do. I don’t look at it, but I don’t regret taking it either. When you have nothing to eat, you’ll pick from the garbage can.
I recall the day she died far more vividly than the best of my days, including even the day she was born. The sound of a steadily beating heart on the monitor just doesn’t ring in your ears like the deafening sound of one flatlining. Like coaches say, you remember the losses more than the wins, I suppose. And this one was the ultimate loss.
I ran across a Rose Kennedy quote on loss. She buried four children, I believe. “It has been said that ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone.”
I believe her, though I don’t even think I’ve reached the scar tissue stage yet. I’ve been told I don’t have much of that self-protecting instinct, so maybe it’ll take quite a while or not happen at all. Maybe I’ll just walk around with open wounds.
I can take it, but I do sometimes wonder about those who try to endure me. I was an angry bear to be around at times before; now my fangs are really bared. I can often feel how agitated and unpleasant I am, and I don’t even want to do anything about it other than hit the gym a few times a week to keep from boiling over.
I figure this is reality and you can deal with it or leave. Makes no difference to me. The one I needed to stay the most is already gone. Your departure won’t even register.
There’s no silver lining in this dark cloud. Let’s expose another cliche. Everything actually doesn’t happen for a reason. That one irks me the most of all of them. Some things just happen. Either that, or God is just a dick. Take your pick.
Want to see me at my darkest? Tell me it happened for a reason to my face. I’ve heard some good ones… so she wouldn’t suffer; so I could write something real. Thanks, but I was just fine writing about fake shit, like lifting weights, for grown men who remain stuck in adolescence. And that kid was tough as a corn cob. She’d have suffered if it meant she could come back and play some more in the yard and jump on her trampoline.
I’ll give you a reason. You’re at the emergency room having your jaw wired shut because you’re too stupid not to keep your mouth shut about that which you can’t possibly know or understand. There’s your fucking reason. Or maybe I’m there having mine wired shut because you have skills on top of your ignorance. Either way, I don’t care, and not caring about what anyone thinks of me or even about what happens frees me to speak my mind.
Everyone enjoys watching a train wreck until they realize it's about to crash right into their living room.
You don't like that I swear a lot? It's offensive? Since when did you become such a pussy? Is this what happens to us when we get old? Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck. How ya like that? It's on you. I always swore and you knew this, just like when you date someone and expect them to change. Sorry Charlie; ain’t happening. It ticked way up after my kid died, you say? Fucking right it did and you're a shitty fucking friend for caring about something so utterly meaningless.
Offensive language??? Really??? This may as well be Allen Iverson lamenting the lunacy of questioning his commitment to practice. Come the fuck on. I don’t have any real proof, so maybe I really am completely koo-koo and am just imagining this, but I have this persistent gut feeling that’s the dumb ass reason a few of you look away.
I don't pick up the phone or call you back? Again, it's on you. I've always hated the phone; always been this way and you know it. I feel trapped and suffocated from the moment I pick the damned thing up. I don’t know how to end the call graciously and some of you fools talk just to hear yourselves. Nevermind how trivial these crises sound from my perspective.
Maybe I have a goddamned disorder. It got worse? Damned right it did. Losing your kid fucks you up. If you didn't want to chit chat before, you really don't when your head is a war zone with mortar shells going off all around. Email me, bitches. I always answer email. Every. Single. Time.
In fact, my inbox is completely empty right now because I reply, thoughtfully I might add, to every single friend, and even a few who are in relationships (haha, couldn’t resist), who has ever contacted me. I clear my head and I write, but only when I’m good and ready. It's how I communicate best.
You don't approve of some of my choices? Finally… progress and not more idiotic bullshit! You actually hit on a good one. I don't approve of them, either. I did some truly assholish things to some great people. And I admitted it, asked for their forgiveness, and tried to move forward. I don't approve of you passing judgment when you clearly have your own imperfections. So there.
Bottom line... I'm not saying my behavior was exemplary, but I should have gotten somewhat of a pass, at least to the extent you didn’t just turn your backs. I went to hell. I'm still in hell. I needed my friends, and I needed them on my shaky terms, yet most of them abandoned me before grass grew on the mound of dirt covering her body.
Now? Now I don't care. It all sorted out and I see who's left. To this precious group... thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you. To the rest... not “Go to hell.” It ain’t that bad. But I don’t need you like I did before; that’s for sure.
I floundered around. I still flounder. But I started writing. I made a couple breaks for myself and a couple fell in my lap when I put myself out there that more than made up for a few rejections. None of it fixes losing Ruby, and nothing ever will, but I can kind of stand on my own, at least for now, with the support of those who stuck it out with me.
I’ll write some more. I’ll keep working on this idea of a business built around what I love -- strength. We’ll see how it goes.
I guess I’ll catch up with all you transient friends sometime when it's convenient. Maybe we’ll just continue to like each other’s shit on Facebook without even really taking time to look at it or read it. That seems like a great plan.
Maybe you had your own shit to deal with. Hell, maybe you were just busy and not put off by something I did or didn’t do. Whatever the reason, I forgive you, though it would have been swell of you to ask. I'm just bummed you're not who I thought you were. If you read that and thought of Dennis Green, you know your football so there’s at least something redeemable in you.
Roo lives on in my mind as an absolutely perfect, innocent child, but life is far from perfect. In reality, if she’d have lived longer, she’d have let me down in some way. She probably wouldn’t have been a lifter. Ugh. Open me up while I’m awake and jiggle my liver around with a spoon, why don’t you.
Far worse, I’d have let her down. I wouldn’t have always just been an indestructible gorilla to climb on and drag around by the finger. I’d have been a guy who hurt her mom, among other things.
But we'd have found a way to patch it up. We’d have had no choice. She was my soul, and you can’t live without your soul. I know this too well.
As seems to be my MO, I started this letter raging and now that I got it off my chest I’m starting to breathe a little more easily. I better say this now, while my mood has softened a bit, before the beast returns. I’ll never apologize for speaking my mind, but I am sorry if my words hurt or offend you.
Yes, I’m even sorry about the swearing, but not sorry enough to stop. I really, really like to swear! It actually makes me happy and sort of giddy. If “baked potato” was a taboo word and “fuck” was just a word for a vegetable (or is it a starch?... fuck, I don’t know), I’d probably run around hollering baked potato.
I’m sorry for some words I’ve already written and sorry for some I’m going to write. Most of all, I’m sorry you didn’t get to know her, so you might understand what all this turmoil is about.
If my words get too heavy or I’m just being too big a jerk, tune me out for a while. The best part of me died three years ago. You all are stuck dealing with what’s left wandering around post personal apocalypse, or maybe making the self-preserving choice not to deal with it sometimes.
But come back when you’re ready. Even if at times it seems as if I’m trying to alienate, I’m really reaching out and trying to connect through my writing. We want to connect with other human beings, and our ugliness shows when that’s not happening.
Sometimes I get it right; I know because a few of you have told me as much. Despite my demons and slights, both perceived and real, you are important to me. And if you wade through enough of my venom, you might find something you can use to get through your own dark hours.