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The door

The front door is where it all began every day. Not to take anything away from my old job, but when I think of home, the day begins when I return from work. In recent years I never quite knew what I was getting into until I got there, stood in front of our door, and opened it.

Sometimes what lay within was drown out by sounds outdoors – the weather, the tree blowing in the wind, children playing across the street, a dog barking for its release from a leash and a good chase, or a car accelerating from a stop at the sign in front of our house. Other times it was clear – Adam and Beth playing a high impact game or waging high impact conflict. But don’t let me fool you. This kind of uncertainty added spice to life, not burden. The door was like a present waiting to be opened. Sometimes it was a pair of socks you’d just as soon exchange for cash. Other times it was a surprise you’d remember for the rest if your life.

It’s simple as doors go: white paint, wood sheathed in steel shaped to look like wood. But now it’s taken on a deeper meaning. It’s a symbol for moving, leaving… closing. It’s a gateway to the Kauffman world as it once existed, but no longer works. It’s a door that never truly opens.

I still have a key, a token which reminds me of a time when it did. But when I unlock it now and pass through I’m someplace else – someplace empty. Memories still live inside the door, but little else.

In the days (or weeks) to come, I hope to take you on a little tour and tell you about some of my memories from the other side of our door.

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In the UF years

People romanticize snippets of the past and I’m no different. If you listen to me talk about my UF years, you’d think:

1. I got straight As.*

2. I spent four years in Gainesville with Cheryl, a time overflowing with love, joy, learning, and fulfillment.

3. Ambrosia came with every meal. They only had enough to serve it as a side though.**

4. Classmates followed me on campus, collecting things my feet had trod.

5. Steve Spurrier begged me daily to join the team and solve his dreadful kicking game.***

6. I reigned over the Florida Gym like I was the king holding court, with stifling defense, dazzling dribbling, and a clutch, 3 point shot that would make Larry Bird get down on his knees and kiss my ring.

Obviously it wasn’t all that, to borrow a phrase from my daughter. I’ve got my finger on the pulse of teen culture, yo!

I had a theory about the good old days. I wasn’t just thinking about my good old days, but the concept – those periods in life we’re most likely to hold dear to our hearts. I won’t claim I came up with it first, because it turns out I didn’t. I only claim it occurred to me independent of outside influence – other than raw evidence. When I heard some of my private thoughts in class at UF, allegedly from people who had the same thoughts before I was born, I felt a little deflated. But go ahead, call me liar. I double dog dare you!

Lest I confuse or bore you further, here it is. Although we selectively remember the good times from our “good old days,” those days don’t become good and old unless there are a fair number of mostly forgotten bad days in the mix.

Forgetting those classes at UF for a moment (I did a long time ago), the only flaw in my theory (that I could see) was it relied on one study with an admittedly small test group and no control for comparison. Can I count that as one flaw or do I have to go with three or more? Some would even stoop so low as to call my evidence “anecdotal,” because it came solely from my personal experience – or my recollection of it after the fact.

Well! You do know you’re free to stop reading anytime you like, right?

I imagine “THE good old days” is a moving target, changing as we grow older, having more days in the sample for comparison. However, for the moment mine are my days in college – as I’ve suggested before, in this same post even! I “image” they are a moving target because at the tender age of thirty-nine, I have a lot more data to collect.

Emotional ups and downs filled my college years. I started dating and got engaged at UF, but I also spent some of the loneliest days of my life at UF. If you can believe it, Cheryl was actually dating someone else when we started school. (Yes, I was a rebound guy.) I had the closest friendships of my life, and I pissed each and every one of them away. (I think it’s why I’m a little dismissive when someone says I’m a nice guy. I have evidence to the contrary.)

For every moment of bliss, I can come up with it’s equal and opposite… if I try a little harder.

Do you know what you’re thinking? I know what you should be thinking: “Why the hell would you work so hard to remember the bad times? Can’t you just deal with a few fleeting moments of serenity and nostalgia and leave well enough alone? Are you one of those weirdos who enjoy pain?

First of all, believe it or not there are some personal things I keep private, thank you very much!

Mostly I’m just curious. I did spend the better part of four years studying the mind and how it works. Well, actually I studied what a few folks not named Freud THOUGHT about its mysteries. No offense to the Freud dude, who may have had more issues himself than he studied and wrote about. I did two research projects at UF focused on memory. The formation, use, and retention of memories fascinated me for some time, particularly after my grandmother with Alzheimer’s died (while I was at UF).

I wonder if good, even great can get bland – in a way. Say you have a great day. What does it entail? I’m not talking about vacations or events, I’m talking about real, every day life. How is it different from other good days? If you string a bunch together, is the difference enough to remember the specifics of a particular day for a week, 6 months, or years? I think the answer for most people is no. I think our mind makes short cuts whenever it can, building a construct of “a good day” from hundreds of good days. Our minds learn things which typically make up “good days,” and our recollection of the specifics fade – after they’ve been classified, ranked, and processed – added to the mind’s algorithm used to reconstruct a “memory” of a “good day.”

Now think back to the good times you had to work for, when life was a little more roller-coaster than merry-go-round. Those days have contrast, the memories like the after-image of a flashbulb in a darkened room. It makes me wonder if we have to suffer a little to find happiness with any depth to it, rich enough in emotional texture to stand out in our mind.

Study this post and you’ll probably find more holes than my memories. A four year degree hardly makes me an expert. I haven’t even tried to explain the repression of bad times in this post. In fact, I don’t believe all of them are all that repressed. But that’s ok. Light lacks contrast without darkness, and many (if not most) of us can choose to see more light than its alternative when we’re given the gift of time. It’s enough to make me think a little differently about my depression. A few times I’ve climbed out of the hole to find great memories ready for the making.

– – –

*Actually, that one’s true.

**I meant to imply the mythological definition of ambrosia, not “beebread,” or “a fungal product used as food by ambrosia beetles,” as a pesky dictionary might suggest.

***I was actually pretty consistent from 40 yards off a tee behind my house in high school, using our narrow, 8′ swing set in lieu of goal posts. However, I never played a down of organized ball. I was always the guy with the “biggest leg” on my soccer teams though.

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Some things you can’t have

I used to talk to my grandfathers as a child and as a young adult. I’m sure many of you did too. Some of your grandfathers may have passed on from the living too.

Sometimes it was out loud, as if I was talking to you – though I’d sure as hell make sure you weren’t there to hear me. As a child, sometimes it was a whisper filled with yearning, as if they’d be more likely to hear me if I wanted it enough. Mostly it was silent thoughts, knowing they were gone, unreachable, but imagining their invisible presence to help me sort through tougher times.

And no, there was no psychosis involved, no hallucinations, or sharp blows to the head.

I understood the implications of death, but I wasn’t afraid of it. I had strong opinions on the matter though. I hated it like it was a thing, something that had stolen from me.

I don’t talk to them anymore. I don’t think about them as much as I did. Life gives us too much as we grow to grasp so tightly the things we’ve lost so long ago. But of course I still miss them, even as my memories of them fade. Maybe that’s life crowding out the pain of loss, healing a wound by overwhelming it with healthier tissue. If so, I think it’s misguided if not cruel. I want those memories back. I’m not satisfied with random events, I want to remember who they were. I want to remember with all my senses, but much of it is lost to time. My memories are more like a photo album than something experienced.

I wish I could really talk to them. I’d like to ask them for advice. I’d like to get their take on current events. I’d like to talk politics with them over a cup of coffee, even if we didn’t agree.

Some people wonder if their ancestors would be proud of them and what they’ve done with their lives. I wonder sometimes too. Tonight I lay sleepless in my great-great grandfather’s bed, wondering the same thing, my fingers tracing the wood grain of the headboard, imagining him doing the same many lifetimes ago.

I don’t want to wonder about my grandfathers. If they’d lived as long as I feel they should have I’d know, talking to them over a cup of coffee.

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For Sale

You’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words, but have you ever considered words can have infinite meaning? It’s the beauty of language; this thing our gray matter dreamed up to communicate. It’s so complex it’s a wonder we can keep it straight, and it explains why so many of us have trouble capturing its intricacies in print.

Just the words “for sale” can mean several things to different people, depending on context, inflection, or tone. They can explain one’s principles or one’s property, their meaning completely different. They can conjure countless stories from your imagination: like the broken dreams of a sign in a small, abandoned shop downtown, or the excitement of a brighter future posted in the yard of a modest home.

To me, they mean giving up. I knew the words were inevitable for months, but my heart didn’t truly accept them until last weekend. We agreed to call a realtor and put our home up for sale.

Funny word, “accept,” or maybe just the wrong one. I feel anything but accepting. I feel resigned. I feel broken.

I feel crushed by responsibility.

Don’t try this at home kids, I’m a professional. I’m of course referring to self-pity.

If I was more ambitious we’d have more income. If I wasn’t sick we wouldn’t have so many expenses. If I was more disciplined we wouldn’t have quite as much crap we really don’t need.

Whatever the reason, we find ourselves in the same boat many others do, maybe even you.

For years our income sat still like a naughty child in time out. Expenses went up. A lot. A few of those expenses were discretionary, like my recent vacation, but many were not. Every year we went through the budget, cutting chunks here and there in order to tread water. Every year it got harder to find big chunks. This year they’ve been scattered, small, and most importantly: not enough.

So this weekend we met with the realtor. We signed some papers and sprinkled them with a few initials.

A sign goes up in the yard next week.

Everywhere I look inside I see other signs, the ones that spawn memories.

I’d sooner clip off a little toe than sell, but it’s the right move – the smart move. We have the plans drawn for the addition that will become our new home, after (if) we get our price.

Now I wonder, emotions torn.

How long?

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As the mind wanders…

This is not a sad story.

Saying it up front kind of puts into question though, doesn’t it? Sows a little doubt maybe?

This is a story about home. It could be about your home or a friends home, but only you could write that post, or your friend. This is about scratches in the hardwood floors of a house in eastern Massachusetts, in a mysterious spiral pattern. It’s about a patch of wallpaper* where a younger you practiced writing your name. It’s about the front step and the proper angle of attack on the pile of snow from shoveling the walk. It’s about the tree you climbed high enough to look down on your two story house, before you learned your multiplication tables – and thus calculate the number of bones you could break if the potential energy became another kind of energy.

It’s about a plaster patch in the back of a closet, about the size of child’s foot. Or the industrial grade swingset in the backyard that may out live you. Or the broken cement roof tiles you’d swear would handle the force of a football, kicked from 25 carefully measured yards away.

It’s about projects large and small, like the new floors installed in the living room and all the bedrooms – and the back pain that came with it, free of charge. Or the small work of tinfoil art crafted to deflect the light of a fixture directly in front of a television. Or the pictures you hung in the family room, in places picked by the previous owners – no matter how well it fit your arrangement of stuff. It’s about the odd mirror you hung in an odd corner, the one your mother gave you shortly after you were married, before she lost her mind.

It’s about all the little memories hiding in all the little nooks, corners or cracks.

It’s about the feeling you get when you first think about leaving them all behind, to move to another place where memories are waiting to be made.

– – –

* Ten or fifteen years after we moved, my sisters visited the old neighborhood and asked to have a look around the old house. The current owners (at the time) showed them a room almost completely free of wallpaper, save for a small square hidden by a dresser, where someone had practiced writing their name many years ago.