2018: In Like a Savage Lion, Out Like a Rabid Lamb
Christmas Day 2018, Hammond, Illinois — It’s a good while before dawn in this small town where my wife grew up and according to NORAD, Santa has finished his perennial global flight, having delivered 7,281,439,471 gifts. This house — one of the oldest in town — is quiet, save for the grandfather clock’s quarterly dongs and me in a stocking cap click-clacking away on a MacBook Pro keyboard. The dining room table, which just 12 hours ago was full of food and life and young kids pulling at our socks, sits in the dark just off my left shoulder, reset for a breakfast feast of similar proportions.
My wife is asleep. My son is asleep. My in-laws, I assume, are asleep. Santa, I hope with all my heart, is ripped on the good scotch and burning off the last of his Christmas Spirit on a horned and lubed up Mrs. Claus. And me, I’m awake with thoughts of family and the geriatric year 2018. It was a year many people have complained about. And for many, it wasn’t easy. Immigrants, would-be immigrants; refugees, would-be refugees… They had a rough go. Families of Parkland, Florida. The storms, the fires… There were some large scale FUBAR situations for sure. And these are situations we all need to reconcile with someday soon — a must before we meet our maker. But on the smaller scale of individuality, things were different. In hindsight — which is all we have left at this point, really — 2018 wasn’t so bad.
If anything, 2018 was a year of extreme collective naval-gazing. Where it seemed that most of the world expected, and was even rooting for the President of the United States to fail just so they could stick it to their Uncle Jerry and Aunt MAGA, I cautiously, and without a choice, let 2018 into my life not having any idea what would happen or how it would spit me out. One year ago, while preparing for the coming year of our lord, I was hunkered down with shame, self-loathing and the overwhelming feeling of certain doom. Not for American Democracy like so many of my naval-gazing compatriots, but for my own demise.
At the end of 2017, I was on the ropes. Mourning the death of our still pretty young dog at the hands of cancer; laid off from a great-paying full-time gig; convinced I had no value to offer any entity that would pay me enough to provide for my family; a child due to spill forth from my pregnant wife, completely upending the familiar shit pile I was living under; certain my shot at opportunity to be something better and do something more had passed.
I was a weak, whiny, self-absorbed, hateful, irrational, childish little prick.
I was quintessentially American.
It could have all gone wrong. From my vantage point hundreds of leagues under the sludge, it should have all gone wrong. It would have been so easy for me to completely succumb to the pressure and collapse, implode, suffocate. My own hard times were enough, then compounded by the misery happening elsewhere in the world made hopelessness a valiant martyr. So easy to blow up my marriage, abandon my desires, bite the barrel and swallow the bullet… Take whatever was left of the money I had and head down to some Cuban beach, buy a small sloop, load up on whiskey and pretzels and sail off toward the nearest squall. It would have been a helluva way to go. I would have been a coward’s hero.
Of course, this is not the path I took. I suffered through my own hatred, swam to the top of the sludge and took a big breath. Then I freaked out a little more, took a big, stinky shit all over the first few months of 2018 and waited, like a spineless, sackless beta male, for my son to arrive, pissing and moaning about it every step of the way. I had to give up my office and move my office couch out to the covered porch. Wah-wah. I had to attend a baby shower where our friends handled all the organization, provided all the drinks and threw gifts for the kid at us because they wanted to and were excited for us. Wah-wah. The baby shower thing was, perhaps, the worst of my worst.
I ruined it. Maybe not for our friends but certainly for my wife. See, I hate baby showers and didn’t want to have anything to do with one. Let it be for the womenfolk, I said. I requested, then demanded, that I not be included in any showering and that my male friends not be invited to such a gluttonous affair. But that demand went ignored, or perhaps, brushed off as me just being ol’ David, that cynical blowhard. I should have just shut my mouth and considered Katie’s feelings on the thing. I should have recognized the amazing generosity of our friends and been comforted by their excitement that we were about to be parents.
That’s not what I did. I kept my eyes on my navel, my earplugs stuffed way too deep in my ear holes so that all I could hear was my own miserable voices in my head rather than the pleading love of my wife and the proof that my time on this planet hadn’t been wasted. And so, my bad attitude and subsequent hard binge on the booze during the party ruined things in an epic way.
I spent the next month in sober shame and embarrassment, weighing the benefits of flight or fight daily. I wound up in self-imposed living purgatory. You see the theme here? All self. All me. All immediate reactions to small hiccups I perceived as diabolical conspiracies created to destroy me. I had become everything I hate: a left-leaning liberal in the Age of Trump. Or worse, I had become Trump. Is there a difference?
And then Harrison was born.
My turnaround, if we can even call it that, was not his doing. I didn’t see Harry being born, then watch the nurses wash so much poo-poo off him, hold him in my arms for the first time and realize that life was wonderful and everything was going to be OK. No. Of course not. Are you kidding me? I’m a malcontent, sometimes a depressive, I’m not a fucking idiot. But here’s what his birth did do: It reminded me, yet again, that everything is going to be fine. My problem isn’t that I can’t handle what happens in life, it’s waiting for life to happen where I struggle and fail. The unknown and how I manage it has always been my undoing.
Once I got out of my own way, shut the hell up and put the focus on being the husband I vowed to be and the person I imagined myself being when I was 11 years old, and looked up from my linty navel, 2018 began revealing itself as a year that was hardly on a mission to destroy me.
• My son was born healthy
• My wife was healthy
• My mother-in-law said, “shit”
• I won the Peter Lisagor Award for excellence in journalism
• Traveled to Boston and Nashua, Mass. to stand up for my best friend Chris as he married the wonderful Amy
• Freelance work picked up again pretty quickly
• I did a lot of sailing in my own sailboat
• All things Literate Ape
• Finally saw Jawbreaker live and with my wife and two of my oldest and dearest friends who flew in from the west coast for it
• My book, The Last DJ was published
Oh, shut up, Himmel.
Listing all of my feel-good accomplishments in public like this makes me sound like a victimized storyteller. “Look how great I am! Look how I overcame the adversity the Universe threw at me.” Hey, I know what they sound like — I’ve been one. Nah, that’s not it. The mess I was in was mostly of my own making.
Eddie getting sick and dying wasn’t my fault. Neither was getting laid off. Hell, within a month of my leaving, the entire marketing department was put through the woodchipper. There’s plenty that happens to us that is merely chance, nature’s timing or the Devil’s roll of the dice. That stuff will knock us down, but it’s our behavior while we’re down that determines whether we’re out or not. I almost counted myself out.
This past year started hard. As it ends, I can’t say it’s all sunshine, good scotch and morning blowjobs. No year ever will be because life just ain’t that way. As I stare into the eyes of 2019, I see that they are crazed. But they’re the eyes of a rabid lamb rather than a savage lion. I’ve been down before, and yeah, I’m sick to death of being uncertain about all of life’s uncertainties, but I’ve done this too many times and need to know better than to shit my pants over it and smear the walls of my home with the hot caca. For Pete’s sake, I have a wife who wants to keep loving me and a child who I don’t want to teach to be a monster. And I have things to publish and stuff to make and boats to sail and shit to do, like turn 40. So, if nothing else, I’m too old to act like such a 2018 American Idiot.
And now I’m on the edge of 2019. The savage lion that greeted me at the start of this year has been hunted and killed. Now the spirit animal is a rabid lamb. By this time next year, I aim to have cured the existing lamb of its rabies and slaughtered it for a most delicious feast of chops. It’s the only way to survive.