Memories From the Balcony – Surpassing Your Demons

And so it goes, right?
The life we live, age, the things we do or say, and the people we meet and the things we love, the things that we see or the things we do are nothing more than elaborate patterns of time. And so it goes.
The seconds become minutes and minutes become hours.
And so it happens. We grow and we age.
Or how does that airline commercial go?
“You are now free to move about the country.”

And so it goes. Some move on. Some people fail to move at all. Some fail to launch and some never dare or try.
Either way, life is an elaborate pattern of times and events.
We look back in awe of how far we’ve come. Or, have we come far at all?
Look how many years have gone by.
Where have we been?
Have we moved from this spot?

Have we gone anywhere? What have we done?
Have we done anything at all? Other than the typical get up, get out of bed, go to work and then come home. What else have we done?
Have we been effective?
Have we been impactful?
Have I? Have you?
God, I hope so.

Have I made a statement?
Or did I leave a mark that will be deep enough to prove that I gave it my best?
That’s all I want.
I want to leave a mark that is redeemable and recognizable enough so to say that hey, at least we were here – 

Maybe it seems as if we’ve been around the world at least a thousand times, only to come back to this spot, right here, which is exactly where we belong.
I believe the term for this is life.
I believe that life is a combination of the times we live and the lessons we learn.
This is what it’s like to come back in a full circle.
Your eyes open up and, suddenly, you can see the world a bit more clearly now.

I can relate to circling back. I can relate to coming back to where it all began.
I can relate to returning to the scene of the crime – so-to-speak.
I remember standing in a field behind my old elementary school.
I was looking at tiny pieces of my history as if to witness this in my mind’s eye.
I was sad and angry because of the moment at hand yet there was hope for me.
Deep down I somehow knew that there was love for me out there, somewhere, existing and just waiting for me to notice and take hold of the dream.

So much had happened. I must have traveled more than a million miles yet, where had I gone?
I drove around my old neighborhood.
Almost everyone I knew had either moved or changed or they were no longer with us
(at least not in the flesh anyway).

I noticed the old landmarks which may have changed over the years.
Anything that was true to its old form was few and far between; but still, at least there were a few places that remained untouched.
I could feel this too.
Do you know what I mean?
I could feel this at my core. 
I could feel the change in my chemistry. I could feel the trickles of nostalgia and the warmth which, to me, is like sitting at Mom’s table after being away for so many years – the house still smells the same – the food is just as healing and redeeming. Above all, this is, was, and forever will be my home.

I had these pictures in my head of memories that had either been untouched or forgotten.
These were lost thoughts, only to be rediscovered and relived in an instant. 
I could feel the spirit of my yesterday and the remnants of my youth.
Take the park over on Prospect Avenue for example. The shell is still the same and, like I said, I have history here. I have memories and stories; which in some cases, some of these stories are ones that I had always promised to leave untold.
Then again, I was afraid at the time. I was afraid of the feelings and the recollections of events. 
I’m not so afraid anymore.
Then again, I don’t have to be.

I remembered the vast amounts of worry and young insecurity. Yet, I was too young to quit but too afraid to try.
This is why I suppose they call this youth. Or, maybe this was capricious youth. 
There were so many questions.
This was me, unpredictable and mad yet everything about me was predictable.
I was screaming out loud in the masses of wild behaviors and quick fixes.
I dared the edge and dared to be wild but I would never dare the bridges of honesty or allow myself to be vulnerable because hell, what would happen to me if I was honest about what I really thought?

I can remember rehearsing things that I would say to people – that is, if I had the chance to say these things. I can remember standing in front of the mirror to practice what I would say, just in case.
This could have been to a bully. Or maybe this would be to a girl who I never had the guts to say what I felt.
Maybe this rehearsal of what I’d say would be so that someone would like me.
Or, maybe this would be so that someone thinks that I’m cool – only, I was out of my head at the time and when the rehearsal was over and it was time to go live, I was out of my head.
I would find myself in the insane patterns of “more of the same.” In fairness to myself and to those around me – it’s hard for a girl to like you when you’re drunk or high or out of your head.

I have moments of blackouts and vomit dangling from my chin.
I have memories that were dark and unfortunate. I had a small but brief moment of realization which took place on a park bench between myself and one of the popular girls who asked me, “What’s that like?”
“What’s what like?”
“That stuff you do?”
“Why would you even want to try?”
I couldn’t fathom what her life might have been like.
I couldn’t begin to understand why someone with so much would want to be out there on a dope nod, wasting away, when everything about them is beautiful or perfect.
Why would you even want to try this?

I remember this being a moment between two people who sat on the opposite sides of the cafeteria at school.
We were part of two separate groups who would otherwise be at war – like the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s or the Capulets against the Montagues.
She was part of the pretty crowd. She was one of “the good” ones and part of the town’s most notable people.
I was notable too.
My crowd of friends and I were the town’s refuse. We were the long haired crazy ones. We were the troubled kids or ‘the bad” ones. For some reason, there she was, Ms. Popular, asking me what it’s like to escape with something so mind erasing.
Could it be?
Could it be true that depression happens across the board?
Could it be that as different as we were, maybe none of us are so absolutely different.
Maybe no one is so different that we can’t understand pressure or what it’s like to constantly have the need to fit in or to just be okay.

I think of the beginnings of my life and the trajectory which was planned out for me.
However, I chose a different path.

I drove through my town as a grown man and thought back about my times of rebellion.
I thought about the times when I separated from the crowds.
I thought about the music which I piped to my ears and how the anthems I played were the orchestra to my personal rebellions.

I can remember standing in an open field that was part of a large, vacant lot, which was apropos for my tiny section of a town. This is apropos for a suburban kid in this grand scheme of a great big world.
I unfolded the top of my box of Marlboro Reds. Most people fail to recognize this – but on the package of Marlboro cigarettes are the words, Vini, Vidi, Vici 
This means, I came. I saw. I conquered.
Only, it was me who came and saw but it was me who was conquered.
I lost to a series of inaccurate beliefs.
I lost to old pains that took me years to recover from.
I have both visible and invisible scars.
I have both happy and sad mementos and significant trophies that say that I’ve done my job.

Upon this trip –
I viewed my town from different eyes which, in some ways, was healing to me.
I say this because I knew where I’d been and I knew what I had accomplished.
I knew that I defied the predictions and certainly the odds that were against me.

I saw little kids in the neighborhood playing in the playground.
They are the future.
And I say bless them.

I saw the different places where historic events in my life took place. I saw the lawn which belonged to the home that was next to my house. This is where a group of people decided to light a cross on fire and place it there as if to say, “Not welcome.”
This was my earliest lesson about hate.
It’s shameful to see what people do –
It was shameful to see what I took from this and how I allowed myself to give in and allow my early strategies to be decayed by hate. 

I saw where I was laid out a few times and recollected the nights where I’d have to hide because I couldn’t be seen.

Upon my return –
I saw this and realized who I was and how misleading our early life can be.
But my town, she welcomed me home.
Maybe not the people so much. Not that there were too many left. 
There was a special sense of anonymity.
There was an old costumed breed of confidentiality as if to say yes, I remember you too but shhh . . . no one else needs to know what happened.

There is something about “going home,” so-to-speak.
There’s something about passing the old corners or reliving the old memories. 

It was strange yet beautiful, odd yet pastoral and cathartic.
My trip home was welcoming, like an old former prince returning to his castle.
I was home to uncover the mantle, to sheath my sword, and hang up my weapons of self-destruction.
There was so much that happened since my last visit.
I drove past the schools and the old places where I’d hang around.
I remember the places where I’d go to endure the late night hours.
I remember the complexities of life at the time and the adrenaline that comes with being young.
I remember daring the edge like a wire about to burst with too much electricity.
I did “the things.”
I “walked the walk.”

There was something about this to me because upon my return, I was grown.
I had achieved and accomplished more than what was predicted for me.
I had moved around the world and gone through so much yet home was always home. And me, no matter where I went or what I did, I was still a kid from the neighborhood.

I earned this moment. I had the scars to prove it.
I have the right to say that I came from this place. Whether the times were good or bad, I have the right to appreciate the journey. In addition, I have the right to recognize one of the most valuable details – which is that I survived. 

I did it Pop
(This is me speaking out loud right now to my Old Man.)

I thought of names like Dorian . . .
I thought of the people who died too young.
I thought of the friends who I’d never have the chance to reconnect with and even now, as I write to you, I’m thinking about my friend Jeff and how we talked two days before he passed.
But this is life.
This was my youth and this is me now, not so young – but perhaps I am more youthful than before, which is good because what’s the good of being young and alive if you don’t have the courage to live out loud?

Perhaps the most honored or generous appeal of my homecoming was to be welcomed by people who knew me during my crazy days.
In truth, at the time, these were people who would have sooner spit at me than say hello or offer a decent word about me.
But things changed.
I changed.
It was remarkable to me when my name came up and I had heard the talk about where I’d been.
I heard someone remark about what I’d been up to.
Or better yet, it was interesting to recognize that it was me who held onto the remnants of my past.
No one else, at least not really.
Just me.
It was me who held onto the pains of my youth.
Everyone else grew up. 

I suppose the most amazing fact about this is that anyone can recover and improve.
Anyone can find their own greatness and even if others refuse to let you advance beyond your old lessons; still, no one can hold us back –
Unless we allow them to.

I never saw myself as anyone of value or I certainly never saw myself or what I did as someone who should be appreciated or admired.
I believe it was Hendrix who said, “I don’t like compliments. They distract me.”
I don’t like them either.
Besides, I’d rather be humble because anyone and everyone can fall from grace at any given moment.

I never knew how to be my own hero or my own best friend.
I only knew about the enemies at the gates which are the enemies in my head.
People were kind to me when I came back.
Some would say, “I heard about what you’ve been doing.”
Then they’d tell me, “I think it’s good.”

I remember listening to those words as if they were dangling in the air; as if there was something so unreal about this moment; as if to say, “Are you talking to me?” or as if there was something magical and worthwhile. Yet, there was something more important that was happening at the time.
This was proof that it was only me who held onto my past.

Most people decided to move on with their life. Most people forgot about who broke what or who said what to whom.
Most people let that go.
As for the people who didn’t – I was able to see them differently.
I was able to see them as unimportant, which is no differently than the unimportance of my past – because it’s gone.
It’s literally gone . . .
But more, I realized that I don’t have to be afraid anymore.
Yesterday no longer exists. Beside, neither of us live there anymore.

Someone saw me at a hometown event.
They told me how they saw me on the news and asked if I lived in a mansion.
I just laughed. 

I acted as a minister for one of my oldest and closest friends when he married his wife.
I think of this and shake my head in disbelief.

I helped a person who used to hate me. And I mean really hate me.
It’s amazing to me how we can literally come to a moment of realization that A) we’re not so bad after all and B) that anyone can and will change as time goes on.

I have a goal which is to speak at one of my old schools from the neighborhood.
I want to tell them where I’ve been and why.
I want to show them the scars; but more, I want to accentuate life.
I want to talk about living and not the junkie stories or the bullshit gangster life that kids would see as cool.
I want to focus on the rewards and not the common things that the news reports on a daily basis.
I’d rather empower people with hope than warn them about the dangers which would only entice them instead of deter them.

I wonder if the auditorium at Woodland Junior High School still smells the same way. To be honest, the last time I was in the auditorium, I was fueled up with black holes for pupils.
This is one of the phenomena that takes place as a chemical reaction to a thing we called purple double barrels –
AKA three hits mescaline and two chill pills.

I want to introduce myself to my old self and revisit a few of my old demons, just to say:
“It’s okay, kid. You can come out now.”
I could tell the old me:
All of the bullies are gone and you don’t have to be scared anymore.
Not with me here. Not ever again.
The judgment is over. You passed, kid.
You passed with flying colors.
You’re smarter than you ever knew.

You can stop thinking that you’re not.
You can put the blade away.
You can stop the nonsense.
Believe me – you’re more special than you think.
It just took us a few decades to realize it. 

I want to see them, the students in my old town.
I want to see their faces. I want to hear about their young lives and their hopes.
I want to hear about their dreams and, more than anything in this world, I want to encourage them to try at all costs.
I want to tell them to live their best possible life because the alternative just isn’t worthwhile.

As for the bullies and the people who might put you down, don’t worry about them because as you rise to the top, you’ll be passing them in the middle ground and it will be them who look up to you.

I promise

Someday . . .

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