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Dear Journal,

Before I met her my longest previous relationship was three years, and during two and a half years of that one it was like a nuclear warhead. I guess I should have quit while I was (slightly) ahead, but that’s altogether a different story for a different time. The point being that I really had no idea how to be in a long-term relationship, when there wasn’t an end in sight from the very beginning, at least for me. I’ll admit that right off the bat.

And I made a ton of mistakes. I’m not going to say they were all caused by finally being in a relationship with no end date in sight, but I will say that my psyche wasn’t helped by having no solid horizon. Yeah, I was pretty screwed up when it came to getting and giving love and affection, and in accepting that not everything needs to be a battle. She taught me almost from the very beginning that being part of a couple doesn’t mean giving up our autonomy or our individual preferences. It means that the other person understands and appreciates us for those idiosyncrasies and differences.

I can’t imagine what it’s like for those couples who are exactly the same, and how they don’t bore each other to death, but she’s so very individual from me. We approach life in two totally disparate ways, which should be constricting, but which is in fact freeing because she “gets” me in a way that no one else possibly could. She understands my frailty and she helps me get stronger without coddling me or telling me that everything will be okay, because she knows talking about things isn’t all there needs to be. I also need experience, even if it’s negative, to help solidify who I am for myself, and who I am in this relationship.

Has it really been 13 years this month since we first talked online? In the aftermath of 9/11 when everyone was evaluating and re-evaluating. And we had a lot to talk about, so many exchanges through which I realized I didn’t want to live without her, even so early on. Which is how it sometimes is when you meet the person you’re destined to spend the rest of your life with. But it’s not like a fairy tale. It can’t be. Because fairy tales have magic, and life isn’t magic. Life is a grind, but a grind that should be worth it, and we need someone to grind along with us. (You know what I mean.)

It’s her birthday today, and we aren’t like we used to be back in the beginning, when she was helping me to mold myself. Now I’m being me for me, and we have a fluid exchange that wasn’t fully there way back then. We were babes in the woods, and now we have matured into ourselves, both individually and as a couple. I have the plethora of gray hairs to show for it, but that’s okay. Each one of these hairs is a reminder that I’m older and wiser, that we’re older and wiser, and I’m so pleased about that. I wouldn’t trade them in for anything.

And she’s in the kitchen right now, overjoyed because of the new dishes I bought for her. Go figure. Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Sam

A Friday Love

5678f99d4cbd0519a018e4ab964a8478I want a Friday love
So slow and easy
Honey smooth
Such sweet emotion
Poured out
Spilling over
This Friday love
Like a postcard
Neatly tucked away
Waiting for tomorrow
Dreaming in color
Just for a moment
A circumstantial pause
Right after midnight
In this afterglow
This sweet release
An unfettered joy
Bathed in light
And angels’ song
A Friday love
To save my soul
And leave me wanting more.

Sam

I Am Not Just My Body

Now, I’ve never been what you would call a physical person, even though I’ve always taken up a fair bit of real estate. When I was a kid I was a little butterball, heavy on the butter and rounder on the ball. It was a fact of life that I couldn’t be in a room and not be noticed, even though I was shy and didn’t make a peep. I was always the last one picked for sporting games in gym, and I ran out of breath relatively early in those games. So, I was substantial, but not in the way I wanted to be.

Then I hit high school and had my growth spurt, stretching from that roly poly youngin’ into a tall beanpole. Whereas before I was recognized for my girth, after I sprouted it was all about the “air up there” jokes. Most times I entered a room people stared for such different reasons. But still they stared, even though all I wanted was to blend with the woodwork or to be recognized for my positive attributes, not just because of my body.

This is where I stop and compare myself to a buxom female who has always been just her body to men the world over, even though she probably has a sharp mind and a feisty wit. Most people just assume things, I guess, and that’s how it’s been with me. It’s funny to see their eyeballs get huge when they realize I’m a published author who has no love for basketball, that I majored in English and adore the game of golf.

Oh, and the air up here is a little bit thinner than the air down there.

Seriously, though, I’m not physical, even though my bearing is physically imposing. I was looking in a full-length mirror at Macy’s the other day when we took a trip to Syracuse, and I tried to see what others see when they look at me for the first time: a very tall black man with closely cropped hair, a thin goatee, broad shoulders, and wearing relatively stylish glasses. I can see why they think I must play basketball what with all the stereotypes I do fit that way, at least physically. I can understand why they would assume I’m only into sports, or that I would be good with cars.

But I’d rather talk about the essence of love, or read Sense & Sensibility, or relax on the couch with my wife after a long day, discussing the meaning of life, or a book we both read. I’m way more internal than external that way, and I’ve always been that way. If given the choice between going out in the park or staying inside somewhere, anywhere, I’ll pick the inside location 9 times out of 10. I’ve never been in a fight, and I probably wouldn’t know what to do in one anyway. Cars are for mechanics to look at, and yes, I can dunk, but it doesn’t look pretty.

I am not just my body, even though that’s the first thing most people notice about me. It’s only natural, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see that none of us is. Dig a little deeper.

Sam

My Refined Palate

images5I’ve always been a picky eater, and of course on top of the reality of being a lifelong vegetarian, that creates a few issues for me when it comes to food. Sometimes I find myself out with others and unwilling to eat whatever fare is presented to us. It has happened a few times, and I know others feel bad for me in those moments, but I’m okay with it. I remember my wife and I used to go to Applebee’s and they let us substitute veggie burgers for any of their standard burgers. That made things easier to eat out, but then they discontinued it. And I got militant.

Okay, okay. So I didn’t quite get militant. I went to the restaurant’s Facebook page and wrote a scathing criticism of the decision to end the substitution program, and they responded. Of course it was a pat response that bordered on patronizing, but it was a response nonetheless, that said they were sorry I had a bad experience and they would look into the decision. Absolutely nothing has changed since then, so I haven’t been back to Applebee’s since. I’m sure they don’t miss my patronage, but every little stand counts, right?

So, when new people find out that I’m a vegetarian they always wonder what I do eat. And I tell them:

  1. Pasta, pasta, and more pasta. I have absolutely nothing against carbs. They keep me big and strong.
  2. Cheese and bread, pretty much any combination. Bagel and cream cheese. Pizza. Grilled cheese.
  3. Vegetables, but under extreme protest. In fact, I sometimes tell people to call me a non-meatatarian instead of a vegetarian because I detest most vegetables. But I eat them.
  4. Cereal. Yeah, I eat cereal for snack times too. I’m addicted to Frosted Flakes. Grrrrrr.

Then there are about a million foods I hate that I refuse to eat. That list includes:

  • Eggs
  • Olives
  • French toast that tastes like eggs (there’s a fine line)
  • Peanut butter (well, anything with peanuts in it)
  • Salads that don’t have lettuce in them

When I say I refuse to eat them I generally refuse to even be around the smell of these foods. And it’s been that way since before I can remember anything else. Sometimes I get fooled too, like when we get doughnuts at work and that brown frosting on top looks a lot like caramel. It’s never caramel. Always peanut butter. Yuck. But I don’t judge other people for eating these detestable foods. I just don’t eat near them.

Oh, and my food can’t touch either. I’m a big fan of those trays that have hard plastic dividers portioning off each type of food from each other type of food. You would probably assume that if it touches even accidentally that I won’t eat it, and you would be correct in that assumption, so I do my absolute best to keep ‘em separated. And I don’t share food either, not even with my own mother (who used to vilify me for it) but I can’t get the image of unchewed food out of my head long enough to make it worthwhile. In fact, the only person I can share food with is my wife, and it took me ages to be able to do even that.

Don’t judge me.

Sam

People Change

people_change____by_maria534-d5b12pb“Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.” ~Marcel Proust

I looked at her today as if for the first time. She’s wearing the shirt I bought for her the summer before last. When I bought it she was swimming in it, even though it was a child’s small. It fit her like a dress back then. But when I looked at her today the shirt fit like a shirt should, and I have no idea when she grew. She’s changing. My littlest girl is not so little anymore.

I’m 37 years old, and sometimes I feel the same way about time, how it moves on relentlessly and changes things, and changes people. I have these shirts in my closet from five years ago, some from ten years ago, and they show the wear and tear of the years. Some of their collars are worn through in places, and I have to get rid of them. Others are just faded from so many washings, but they’re reminders of another time, of another place, and of the me I used to be. But I’ve changed because people change.

It’s like that phenomenon that happens when you’ve grown up with people, and then grown apart. For me it was moving away, and those people I left became frozen in my mind. They’re still 10, and 12, and 16, and they never grew up in my mind. And even though I look in the mirror every day and see this proliferation of gray hair taking over, and though I know I’m 37 years old, they stay exactly the same in my mind.

Then one of them died two years ago, and I was forced to accept that he wasn’t still 15 years old, that he was a grown man but still way too young to have been taken out of this world. Death will force you to see things in a stark clarity that nothing else can challenge. Another one of them passed away a few months later after giving birth, and it challenged me even more to understand, to grieve not for the 8-year old that I remember, but for the woman she became, and for the wonderful mother she never really got to be. The contrast is incredible not only in my mind but also in my heart.

People change. They grow in ways both external and internal, and we don’t see the half of it. What we see are the people we knew, whether it was 10 years, 15 years, or 20 years ago, and we mourn them when they leave us, but we don’t appreciate them for who they’ve become. Lately I’ve been re-forging many of those old connections, finding out what became of those youngsters, how they changed, before it’s too late.

I’m a firm believer in embracing the person I’ve become, even if at times I don’t like that person, because only in embracing that person do I see those parts for what they are, and only then can I change them. Part of that is reconciling who I am now with who I used to be, and from talking to those I used to know I paint a clearer picture in my mind of who I was, and how I’ve changed. But I have to keep reminding myself that we are not the same, that we can’t go back to that place, to that moment in time, except in memories.

And those never change.

Sam

Dear Journal: Trouble Me

noworriesDear Journal,

I was working today when someone came up to me and said how happy I always seemed. She said I must have just started working there if I was really still so positive, and she was absolutely flummoxed when I told her I had worked on and off there for 12 years. How do you maintain your good attitude every day? she asked me, so I stopped and considered it before answering. Then I told her it was all about taking one day at a time, putting all the other stuff, those other issues, out of my mind and starting fresh.

I never realized that was a gift, not carrying over baggage from day to day, but apparently it is. It reminds me of that old piece of advice to couples, about never going to bed angry. Leave your baggage at the door so it doesn’t go inside with you. It’s good advice, but of course hard to follow because human nature is to hang on tightly to anything that bothers you, to let it fester until it turns you into a cynical, untrusting soul. Maybe on some levels I have that inside of me too, but I don’t let it sit there and fester.

No, what I let sit and fester are my worries instead, my worries about money, about job security, about my friends, about pretty much everything under the sun. That’s why I wake up still tired, from my mind going about a million miles a minute even when I’m sleep, trying to reconcile all of my worries, to make them go away like magic. But there is no magic, only small victories every day, like finding a set of dishes for a quarter of their regular price, and knowing that we badly need dishes, and knowing that these are the exact ones my wife has had her heart set on.

Maybe that is a kind of magic, one less worry on my list, even if it is a relatively small one. Every little bit counts, even if another worry slides right in to replace the one that is gone. And I think that if I had an easy life I wouldn’t be so grateful for these small hours, these little wonders, these twists and turns of fate. So I still smile, and I still greet people like I’m genuinely glad to make their acquaintance. Because I am, and because worries don’t have to drag down my spirit.

Even if I am still tired every single morning. Somebody has to be.

Sam

Handy Man

mannywaveHandy man, I am not.

Today I found out just how unhandy (word?) I can be when it comes to trying to fix the proverbial “stuff.” I never learn, I guess. It all started when I was copying last weekend’s Eagles’ game to DVD and the recorder just died on me. One minute it was copying away like a good little machine, and the next it was flashing zeroes at me. After I picked my jaw up from the ground (it had never done anything even remotely like that before) I pressed the eject button. Nothing.

Thus began my cajoling. I tried my best to be the DVD Recorder Whisperer, begging and pleading with it to turn back on, to eject the disk, to just come through for me like it had about a million times before. But it turns out that the million-and-first recording time is the one that broke the Panasonic’s back, so to speak. It didn’t respond to my please, so I unplugged it and let it sit there overnight to think about what it had (or hadn’t) done. If I had a dunce cap I would have placed it on top of the machine, thinking that in the morning it would be embarrassed enough to work for me again.

It wasn’t. And it didn’t. Work, that is.

d5f67646_vbattach120598I plugged it back in the next morning, ready for the magic to begin. But there was no magic. Those endless zeroes began to haunt my days and nights until I decided to unplug the recorder again and perform a type of surgery to try and revive the patient. I read all the how-to websites, watched all of the videos, and got significantly prepped enough to get the screwdrivers out and open it up. To extricate the disk and to see if that wouldn’t fix the mechanism.

I was able to get the disk back but it won’t play, and the mechanism remained stuck.

So I did a bit more surgery, getting the first broken DVD recorder from upstairs, sliding it open, and doing a transplant of internal drives, sacrificing one machine so that another could live on. It hurt to start taking out parts, but it felt good to place them inside the other machine, making a new whole out of what had been torn asunder. I felt like a god, creating something new from the ruins of something that had no future. Then I plugged it back in and pressed the button.

Nothing. I am no handy man. Now both recorders are waiting at the curb for someone who knows what he’s doing to take them and give them a good home, with a screwdriver that can work a magic I wasn’t able to work. And I’ll miss them.

Sam

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