Monday, December 1, 2014

The Golden Boy

He’d sung the song a thousand times, of course. It was the song, the one that had started it all. Before, he’d been a kid in a garage, a suburban teen with a dream. And after: the magazine covers, the television interviews, the roaring concerts, the world tours, the whirlwind surrounding an endearing young man at the twilight of an innocent era. Or maybe he’d only seen it that way because he’d been innocent himself. It was all because of that song. People had connected with it, felt it stir something inside of them, and then there he was, a golden boy with a golden voice singing a golden tune. He could have performed that song asleep and one legged. There was no reason to have butterflies. But it was here. This was the stadium where he’d first sung it live on a summer night in 1976.

He peered out across the throng, gathered in that same green field, and for a moment through a beam of light and out of the corner of his eye, he saw them as they’d been. The young girls, unadorned faces shining; the young men, pretending they didn’t want to be there but secretly mouthing in their heads the words their sisters and girlfriends shouted aloud. And him, mounted atop a metal throne, screaming into a sceptre, one voice rising above all the others like a tidal wave of beauty. The man he loved had been behind him wielding a guitar. Man, hell. They were 16. But they became men together.

The shaft of errant light shifted and several hundred grey men and women stared back at him. The eyes were the same, though, the same as all those years ago. He looked down to his hands, wrinkled now as they held the microphone. The famous mane of auburn hair, what one journalist had called “silken fire,” was gone, the remnants faded from copper to grey. And the man he loved was gone, too. He had the memories forever, though.

“I don’t know if you know,” he told them. “But this was the first place I ever performed this song. Some of you might have been here.”

He recalled the man behind him, the hand on his shoulder anchoring him to the world so he wouldn’t soar to Heaven on the wings of his melody. Absurdly, his eyes stung.

“I’m a little different now,” he said after a pause. “It’s been a little while. But I still know the lyrics. And if you do, too, will you sing them with me?”

Then he closed his eyes, and he sang.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


The fire of October
Is ember in a ditch
It glows in desperation then
It blows out into pitch

October gets the portraits
October gets the songs
But life after October
Endures painfully long

November stretches cold and grey
And dull and brown and dead
November's wisdom blooms in spades
Not 'till its leaves are shed

November somehow carries on
Once red and gold have died
Once what remains upon its stems
Attracts no gleaming eye

November holds not for the joy
It holds because it must
It alone can know the pain
Of sunlight turned to rust

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Moving On

It's been a long time since I've written a post, but graduate school has kept me busy. Between new friends, new classes, new professors, and a workload that's been pretty shocking, I've had precious little time to write. But that busyness is a good thing. It's a hell of a lot better than the two years of essential stasis I experienced between my college graduation and my suicide attempt this time last year.

I think I'm going to enjoy being a teacher. I'm observing a nearby middle school right now, and while middle school isn't the age I'd like to instruct, I still look at the teacher in that classroom and feel a degree of envy. She spends every day standing before a group of children and talking about history. I could do that.

Of course, the end-game for me remains a history professorship, and that goal is never far from my mind.

"Getting your PhD is going to be the most stressful part of your life," one of my history professors cautioned me a week ago. "It was the most stressful part of my life, and I'm getting married this year. But you'll be able to do it."

Visions of the future I will have, of myself as a high school history teacher, living far away and pursuing a second master's degree alongside a doctorate, crop up in my mind every now and again, but amid the daily grind of the education program here, that someday is a little hard to envision.

I'll get there.

It's a little disorienting to me how much things have changed since I started this blog. Back then I was a nineteen-year-old college sophomore, damaged but innocent, sharp but delicate, bright but oblivious. I was a boy. These days, after everything that's happened, after all the inner aging I've done, there's a weariness and, yes, a wisdom to me that's a little out of place on someone who's not yet thirty. Sometimes I feel like I'm one hundred years old. And that's just it: I've grown up. I'm still goofy and imaginative and fun, but whereas at nineteen I feared the onset of adulthood I now embrace it. I feel comfortable being the grown-up in the room, the one who takes care of others.

I've seen first hand what happens when someone can't make that most critical of transitions, seen the emotional weight it imposes on everyone around them, and in light of that Marie's recent course of action is perfectly understandable. On August 15, she asked my father for a divorce. After years of alcoholism and abuse, years of being a middle-aged man who comported himself with the worst traits of petulant adolescence, he at last pushed my stepmother too far. And now he's gone. He has been for about two months, in fact, and what is most striking about our once toxic household is how peaceful it's become. When I arrive home for a long weekend from school, I find Thomas and Pie lounging on the couch, hear Marie working in her office, and before long we're all seated at the kitchen table having dinner and talking about our days.

It's almost normal. And the home I once dreaded has become a place I enjoy, a place I seek out as a welcome refuge against the stresses of my master's program. When I leave this place in the summer of 2016, bound hopefully for a teaching job in Northern State, I won't have to flee. And I'll actually want to come and visit.

So that's about it. I promise I won't be as absent in the future as I have been since the start of school. I'm finally getting my bearings, and all of this is a lot more manageable. You guys have been with me for a long time. Thanks for sticking around.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Odd and Delightful Bunch

I quite like the members of my father's family, but I am beginning to question their taste in leisure activities.

"With your brother gone, it's just Aunt Crazy and me here," my grandmother told me today on the telephone. "She's staying until Uncle Responsible and Cool Cousin fly back."

"Where are they this time?"


"Oh," I scoffed. "Are they chasing wolves again?"

"Bears," my grandmother replied. "They're chasing bears."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I Am Afraid

Up until today it was a bit like pretending. I was back on a college campus, once again living in a dormitory, once again surrounded by undergraduates, young men and women at the peak of their physical beauty and for the most part wholly oblivious to that fact. The feeling of being out of time was inescapable; I didn't belong here with these children, carefree and unaware that their world was so small, sheltered and buoyant and so very, very young.

Yet here I was. If they couldn't tell that I wasn't one of them, maybe it was time for me to forget, too. This afternoon that illusion was shattered.

I entered the classroom for my first graduate-level course and was greeted by an assembly of faces that were almost all older than mine. The professor thanked us for our time, thanked us for our attention, and said he understood the strain some of us must have been feeling from working during the day.

That's why all of the graduate classes are in the evening, I realized suddenly. It's because these people work.

The gulf between their world and mine was enormous, but I realized that in one moment it had been irrevocably bridged. I did not operate under the stresses these people did, but we were now, all of us, firmly in the realm of adulthood. No longer were we initiates--our professor spoke of "our industry" and "our careers" in a way that made the burden we were there to assume unmistakably clear. This wasn't schooling. It was vocational training.

That training will proceed more quickly than I  might be comfortable with, and all of us will be obliged this fall to participate in a practicum, on-site observations of local high schools in which we will appear as "educational professionals."

This brought up an immediate host of worries: what am I to wear? How am I to act? What if the students don't take me seriously? And how can I possibly stand at the head of a classroom and pretend to be an authority when so much of my own life is unresolved? I thought I would have become more secure by now. I never imagined how unsure and lost I'd actually be at twenty-six.

And there it is: I am twenty-six.

One of the hardest things I've had to come to terms with during this process is the fact that I'm not young anymore. Don't laugh. It's true. Sure, I'm young, but I'm not a kid, not a late adolescent whose audacious dreams are still within the realm of possibility.

As a boy of twenty-one I did absurd things, things like aspiring to a recording career and, what's more, achieving measurable success in pursuit of that goal. That sort of fantasy is, of course, closed to me now.

"You shouldn't say that, BB," Anne said. "Some famous musicians didn't get their big break until they were in middle age."

"That's true," I countered. "But it wouldn't be now what it would have been then."

"No," she said. "You had that whole Justin Bieber thing going on."

At twenty-one and twenty-two I was dewy and bright, a golden-voiced young boy who looked about sixteen. I was surrounded by numberless friends and built a vibrant social world whose center I occupied with undisguised relish. It was such a change from the years before, when illness had isolated me, that I felt like some sort of superhero. Invincible. Eternal. Beautiful. And a moment like that simply cannot last. A more durable happiness can be achieved, and hopefully will be, but it will take me years to do it, and in the meantime I'm left moving forward from a past that makes me feel so degraded.

Even this institution conspires to align itself with that perception. It is smaller than Major University; its food is less varied and less nutritional; its buildings are older; its students, born and bred in this poor mountain community, are less attractive; its professors are less regarded. It is a seismic step down that has at moments left me stunned.

Where are all the people? I wondered time and again on my first day. There were more students in our food court than there are on this entire campus.

It's hard for me to rid myself of the notion that everything is less than what it was. That I am less than I was. The weight gain that followed my suicide attempt has only amplified these thoughts: I do not look significantly different now than I did then, but I am still substantially less attractive. In decline. Decayed.

That decay, physical and social and moral, is something I am working desperately to reverse. I'm losing weight. I'm befriending anyone I can. I have, most importantly, a career path in mind and am adamant in my refusal to veer from it.

Here's the thing: I can handle taking a detour in order to accomplish bigger professional goals, but I cannot handle settling into a life I don't really want. I have no particular desire to teach high school. But because I need to pay my bills while I'm seeking the bachelor's and master's degrees in history that will allow me to become a university professor, I am willing to do it. On the sole condition that I immediately begin pursuing my history education once I commence secondary teaching. That's the only way it would be bearable.

And I am so terrified I'll fail. That the dream of a professorship will be the fairytale I use to lull myself to sleep at night, until one day in middle age I wake up and realize it's an ambition I'll never achieve.
If it is at all within my power to reach the benchmarks I've set for myself, I will do it. I will exert all of my energies towards that end.

And in the meantime I'll try to figure out who I am and what kind of fulfillment I can find as grown-up BB. I'm so horribly lonely sometimes. And I'm so scared of growing into a lonely, sad adult. All of it is new and frightening. I can only hope it will end well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First Day

On the morning of August 25, eight years to the day after I first began undergraduate studies, I became, once again, a college student. That first August 25, in distant 2006, marked the beginning of a long and black journey, but this one inaugurated a full-on thrust towards a bright future.

As welcome as this new start is, however, it has also been a bit strange.

Three years ago, during the fall of 2011, I commenced what I believed would be my last semester on a college campus. At the time, closing that chapter of my life felt right and fitting. To suddenly find myself a university resident again at the age of twenty-six is surreal.

"I was thinking of you today," I said to Laquesha on the phone. "Moving in has made me all kinds of nostalgic."

It's been like traveling back in time, walking amongst these young men and women who were only in middle school when I first began college.

But maybe I don't stand out as much as I imagined.

"So, are you a freshman here?" one boy asked me as I waited in line at the dining hall.

No. No, I am not.

Classes are good thus far, with Mountain State History emerging as the surprising favorite. And my dormitory on campus is complemented by a house only twenty minutes away, so that when the pace of things at school slows down the comfort of home is but a quick ride down the road. My second college experience is proving to be more relaxed than my first.

The welcome absence of my father makes that nest all the more inviting, and will, I hope, contribute to a happy and productive semester.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Between Shadows

I stand between shadows
What was and will be
The greatness of yore and
The future of me

My towers have fallen
My banners are gone
The world that enthroned me
Is changed and redrawn

I wander a lost one
I'm faded and weak
The beauty that thundered
Is shrouded and meek

But I have a power
That others don't hold
From cinders and rubble
My hands can spin gold

I rode the waves once and
I'll ride them again
The mountains and oceans
Will be my seat then

It's already started
As in days of yore
Haven't they told you
I've done this before?

It won't be like last time
It won't be the same
My soul has grown stronger
And brighter's the flame

I rise as a giant
The stars show my way
And with every sunrise
Advances the day