Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One Day at a Time

The outside of the house has been newly painted. The trim is shiny and new. The bushes have been cut back and the flower beds are arranged and pristine. Inside, the house is spotless, clean and presentable. Even the office, which is always in a state of disarray, looks semi-professional. Yes, it is fair to say that in the nearly 2 years I have lived here, the house has never looked better. And it has never felt more empty. It's not where I live anymore, it's just the place I sleep at night. Funny how that has happened. I'm still trying to come to grips with it all. There was a time not too long ago that I would have considered buying this house. It is, after all, a great fucking house. But the rental lease runs out in August and I can't afford to pay for the mortgage on my own, so my landlord is getting it ready to go back on the market. So I have to keep the house nice as I can so the realtor can show it to potential buyers. Don't get me wrong, it's always been well-maintained and I've tried to keep it looking as good as I can, but Brian (the landlord) has really done a lot lately to make it look even better. And I'm sure he won't have any trouble finding someone to buy it. It will make someone a very nice home. It's just not my home anymore. It will forever be to me the place Jen and I used to live. It was our home. And we don't live together anymore.

People have been asking me lately how I've been handling our whole situation. I keep telling them I'm sailing on uncharted waters. I've never been in this place before, and I have no frame of reference for how I'm supposed to handle it. Am I supposed to go left, am I supposed to turn right? Is there even a map to follow? Everything about our divorce has been out there in open, for all the world to see. I mean, we took a picture of the notary signing our divorce papers and posted it on Facebook for Christ's sake. It might not seem like it from the picture, but we didn't reach the decision to split up lightly. This was something that we both arrived at together with serious discussion and soul-searching. And there is no doubt in my mind that we made the right decision. I know it's hard for people who know us to understand sometimes, but unless you are actually in someone's relationship, you will never understand how that person's relationship works. Our relationship just is what it is. Jen and I aren't supposed to be husband and wife anymore. It's as simple as that. But now that the divorce papers have been filed and the dust has settled, now what? What is the next step? We aren't us anymore, we are 2 separate individuals. We still love each other and talk to each other and see each other, but where do we go from here? I'm still trying to figure that out.

As a kid who grew up as a military brat, change is nothing new. I've had to move away from places before and start all over again more times than I can count. But this time it is different. I've never lived in this city as just me before. My entire life here has been defined by my relationship with Jen. When it really comes down to it, I moved to Birmingham for her. I turned away from a life in L.A. that I wasn't happy with and embraced a new future with her. And I've never once regretted that decision, even after all that has happened to us. I've grown to love this place and I consider it my home. Jen and I have many of the same friends, we run in the same circles, and as I am learning, this town is smaller than you might think. Everyone is about 1 degree removed from everyone else. There's a lot of comfort in that, to be sure, but it can also be awkward. We aren't together anymore, so how does that work in a place like this? Is there a proper set of steps to follow? Am I supposed to lock myself away in my room and not come out? Should I try to meet new people and try to define my life in some other way? Or should I just pack it all up and move to Denmark? And what about Jen? I don't want to shut her out of my life. She's still my best friend. I would never want to do anything to hurt her, but can I do that and still live my own life? Is it being selfish to try and move on? What does moving on even mean? Some days I feel like I have it all figured out, some days I just want to stay in bed. I know it's been hard for both of us. Jen and I have talked about it, we both have good days and bad days with it. I guess the best anyone can do is just keep one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

And through it all, the house just keeps getting cleaner. In a few days, the "For Sale" sign will be posted out front and strangers will be making appointments to walk through the door. When the realtor shows them around, they will figuring out where their couch will go, which wall their bed will rest against, and how many cookouts they will have on their new back porch. I should know, I did the same thing when Jen and I saw the place for the first time. Soon enough, I will be living in a new place, with my own new furniture and a new address to memorize. But until then I have to walk around this slowly emptying house remembering how it used to look and sound when there were 2 people sharing the space. It's always hard to let go of the past, but, as I am learning, sometimes it's hard to embrace the future, too. When I used to think about what was to come in my life, there were 2 people in the equation. But there's new math to solve now. What is the solution for a future of 1? I don't know. Change can be a scary thing.

But then I stop and I think about how change is often a good thing. It can be exciting. It can take you places you never thought possible. It can lead to amazing adventures and can redefine who you are. People can be frightened of change. But some of the best things that have ever happened to me were sprung from sudden and life-altering change. That's why they call them life-altering moments. They literally alter your life. You never know what's going to happen when change knocks on your door. Someone new will soon live in this house and their lives will change, just as mine will change when I move out. I have plans and dreams and ideas just like everybody else, and sometimes those things get forgotten and put aside when things stay the same too long. Change is the only constant, and the sooner I remember that and embrace it, the better my life will be.

My itunes library is on random play right now. As I finished typing the last sentence in that last paragraph, the theme song to the 70s TV show "One Day at a Time" started playing. It sounds crazy, but that was the perfect song to close this post out with. As cheesy as it might sound, the lyrics express more about how I feel than anything I just said above, so here they are:

This is it. This is life, the one you get, so go and have a ball.
This is it. Straight ahead, and rest assured you can't be sure at all.
So while you're here, enjoy the view.
Keep on doing what you do.
Hold on tight, we'll muddle through.
One day at a time.
So up on your feet.
Somewhere there's music playing.
Don't you worry none, just take it like it comes.
One day at a time.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

9/11, 5/1/11, and the Curse of Shiny Objects

Like everybody else alive at the time, I remember exactly where I was the morning of September 11, 2001. I was home from work, the last day of my week-long vacation at WAKA CBS 8, asleep in bed. I would have probably slept until noon, as was my normal routine on my day off, but on this particular morning my phone would not stop ringing. Usually I let the machine pick it up, but whoever was calling would not leave a message, they just hung up and dialed again. Angrily, after, the third cycle of this, I finally dragged myself out of bed and answered in a terse voice, "What?"

"Mike, it's Heather! Turn on the TV! The World Trade Center was attacked and the Pentagon just exploded! It's like World War 3!" It was one of my roommates calling from work. She was talking so fast I could barely understand what she was saying, and what I could understand sounded like I was still asleep, experiencing some strange dream. I grabbed the remote and turned on NBC. It became very clear very quickly that this was no dream. I barely had time to comprehend everything Tom Brokaw was saying about all the chaos that had unfolded in the last few hours when the first Tower suddenly collapsed right before my eyes. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

The rest of the day was a blur of disbelief, grief, and shock. But whenever I think about that day, I also remember what happened to this country in the days following. There was a sense of American unity unlike any in our history. For about 3 months, we all stopped caring about our differences and just became Americans. We had something to mourn together and something to rally behind. The flag was flying everywhere you looked. It was like we all forgot to be Democrat or Republican and just became neighbors. It sucks that it took such a tragic event for it to happen, but for a brief shining moment out of the darkness of 9/11, we became the country we always hoped we could be. One nation.

Of course, it didn't last, and we all went back to the petty squabbles and finger-pointing that we'd been so good at before. In a lot of ways, the divisions that existed in the country before 9/11 just got bigger and deeper. In the last decade, pleasant debate has turned into vitriolic rancor. It's deafening how much hate and divisiveness exist in this country. Just read any message board on the internet and one starts to wonder if we're on the verge of collapse, a latter-day Roman Empire crumbling from within.

So now comes word that the guy responsible for the act of terrorism that pretty much caused all this is dead. American Special Forces stormed Osama Bin Laden's compound, shot him in the head, and carted off his body. It sounds like the plot of a Tom Cruise movie, but it's real. I blows my mind. From the moment Bin Laden's death was announced, crowds started forming at Ground Zero, waving flags and sharing in the moment. It was kind of surreal to watch it all unfold on screen, which seemed oddly appropriate for how this whole thing started.

But I can't help but wonder if this is yet another giant distraction that disguises the fact that we still have huge chasms between us in this country. Sure, it might feel good to our baser instincts that the author of the 9/11 plot is dead, but is the world any different now than it was when he was still alive? Probably not. It makes for good headlines, and truth be told I'm glad the evil fucker is dead, but it seems like too little too late. We aren't any better off than we were before 9/11, in fact we're a lot worse. There are serious problems left to be solved, and countless tragedies that we have suffered since that September morning. I have to give the U.S. credit for seeing the mission through over the last decade and taking Bin Laden out, but wouldn't that effort been better spent in solving the energy crisis? Or the housing crisis? Or figuring out how to keep the middle class from disappearing?

I was looking at footage of the destruction left behind last week during the Tuscaloosa tornado and thought to myself that the people who survived that tragedy probably don't care in the slightest that Bin Laden is dead. They've got much bigger problems to worry about. Like where to live. Or where their loved ones are. Or how many funerals they have to attend. But, as it happens all too often in this country, we get distracted by the next shiny object and move on. Look! The Royals are getting married. Look! Bin Laden's dead. Look! Dancing with the Stars is on. We just lose sight of the important stuff and turn into an entire country of ADD sufferers. It's easy to do, and I'm just as guilty as the next person.

But I hope that one day we all wake up and realize that we need to fix the problems in front of us before we move on to the next one. America used to be the place where the world turned to be inspired. I mean, we landed on the moon once. That carries a lot of weight. Now it seems it's the place everyone turns to get distracted. Who cares about gas prices when Kim Kardashian has a new sex tape? Who cares about education when Thor is about to come out? Who cares about the victims of a natural disaster when Charlie Sheen is stopping by? It took us ten years to figure out how to land on the moon, but I bet if we tried again it wouldn't take ten minutes before we got sidetracked and gave up and started playing XBox. The problems we face today are hard and difficult and aren't going to be solved overnight. It's going to take focus and determination look! Will Ferrell is shaving Conan's beard on TBS!

Wait, what was I saying?