It has been a long two years. In “Part 5” I gave the impression of a conclusion to my story, but of course, the only true end to anyone’s story is death, and some have been able to outlast even that. As I still breathe amongst us, I have much more story to tell. I won’t be so silly as to consider this an end of anything. Rather, after reading this I imagine that nearly everyone will agree with me that my story depicts a beginning. Fortunately for an Arkansas atheist, the opportunities to evolve and grow are virtually limitless. I’ll pick up where I last left off, 35 years old, worried for my daughter, still in college, and the unknown looming.
Shortly after publishing “Part 5” I met Rebecca. I had recently seen Amy Webb’s TED talk on how she broke the internet dating code¹. This is a bit inaccurate, as what she actually figured out has far more to do with understanding her personal relationship code. The short of the talk is that she realized that it wasn’t compatibility (although important) which lead to successful relationships; it wasn’t that she had standards which were too high, or that she wasn’t listening to the experienced advice of others. The data revealed that she needed to raise her standards. This could quickly be a place where lots of red flags are raised by my audience. Let me explain. She is not referring to some kind of judgmental blueprint for whom might be “good” enough. The point is having some stuff in common is a good starting point, but getting to know the intangibles of someone’s life and seeing if the common ground still holds up—great on paper, bad in practice type stuff. The data also revealed that the standard by which most of us calculate relationship potential is likely watered way down to meet the expectation of having to have some form of relationship, at least some of the time. So, I held Rebecca to those standards and it was amazing. We communicated at very high level at first and our meeting was at a normal place to meet someone, odd for four in the afternoon.
I met a friend at a local bar, she was there. We have history. She was a bartender for “The Dartroom,” a local bar my last band played in several times. After realizing that we know each other and catching up, we left the bar together, grabbed a bottle of W.L Weller, and came back to my place for an evening of great conversation and what would become our first bit of intimacy. As it happens, I was also starting a new job the next morning. I left her in my bed still sleeping. That May was hot, and my A/C was broken. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t know this and fled the house with an overheated hangover. The job was a convince store clerk position only a few blocks from the house. My little pool was very active, we were both working, and we grew together easily. It was such a change from any other relationship.
She worked so hard, something I hadn’t seen in a relationship for over a decade. She had some college, but hadn’t been able to finish for reasons involving psychological difficulties. Rebecca could be assertive and wielded her intelligence with great proficiency. She was smokin’ fuckin’ hot too. Needless to say before the summer was halfway done, I was in love once again. It was great timing, as one of my largest life tests was coming my way in August, Ivy’s custody hearing.
Rebecca even came to the four hour court session waiting in the lobby (I hadn’t seen devotion quite like that ever). Maddie made a real mess of the courtroom that day. She was prego with another baby and in double default with the courts. Her mother, also an ended up an inadvertent force for my cause. The closing remarks by Judge Zimmerman were an exercise in Maddie bashing. She went on for so long I even started feeling sympathy for Maddie. She was in no way healthy at the time, but the overkill lasted for what seemed like twenty minutes. After the victory, the bailiff asked us to stay in the courthouse since Maddie had left off in a rage. Once he learned I spoke my limited German to Ivy, he told us that he spoke French to his German Shepard. It was a much needed cool down period.
For those of you with children, and likely anyone who cares deeply for family, I don’t need to spend too much time on the emotional impact of getting Ivy home and safe. It was like becoming aware again after a surgery. The day in court had an even larger impact on my mother. She finally got to bitch about Maddie to someone who would not only listen, but potentially bring justice to her granddaughter because of her testimony, and give she did. I still think that Mom probably considers that one of, if not the, greatest moments of her life. I would agree. Yet, before the trip home was over, my mind already contemplated the future and the next challenge.
The roller coaster with Maddie had obliterated any focus for college. I don’t know if it was depression or disillusion, but I knew that anymore mistakes academically would put my entire higher education in serious doubt. I studied and worked, but the lingering effects of the custody ordeal resulted in my achieving three Cs for the fall semester. A huge fight between Rebecca and I over Christmas break resulted in a return to a state of former underachievement. I tried to do something good for someone else by letting my friend Amy crash on the couch. I ended up, found this out much later, hurting her, as her feelings for me grew, but I decided to make it work with Rebecca. Nothing helped salvage my academic focus, and the spring semester was a total bust. This awakened an old demon, and unfortunately for Rebecca and I, we decided to move in together.
I have always struggled with self image. This leads to self loathing. Every person knows deep down it is impossible to show your love if you don’t have it for yourself. Rebecca took the brunt of that sickness. Partying super hard sometimes, Amy brought a bunch of street strays home all the time, and I was barely holding on to my self. The fall semester started strong despite all that, but the damage had been done. The Rebexoudus happened in early October. She said to me, “We have to talk,” following that up with a description of how unpleasant it was going to be. She couldn’t handle how the drugs, alcohol, and moods mixed giving me an ultimatum. I rebel against that kind of shit on principle. She left that day. I forgave her. I don’t know if she forgave me. She left me a letter. I memorized the opening two lines. “I hate you. I hate you.” Yet, on one specific day my love for Rebecca died. I couldn’t stop crying. Family and friends tried to console me, but I didn’t need it. I knew the hole in my mind she used to occupy was now desolate and empty, and for that day, I could not shake it. I recovered well the next day more focused on my life than I had been in a very long time.
Truth be told, we were doing amazing around here. Ivy had started Pre-K, and I was writing and studying like a bad ass. My days had been filled with writing and researching the whole year. I had gone from one large short story to two and a dozen drafts of new ideas. An acquaintance of mine let me use her treadmill for a while allowing me to reach a goal I’ve had for a while, walking on a treadmill and studying at the same time. I built a standing desk and began spending an hour a day doing just that. I still didn’t have a car though, so my friend Dave, who had a truck but no home, took over the couch position. With his truck assistance, we were cruising, and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around I had straight As in all four of my classes. I had some rebound sex with a gorgeous friend, and realized that I had become completely ready for life after Rebecca. It just so happened that my dear ex-band mate and most excellent homie, Richard, was having his annual Thanksgiving Day Leftover party. I found a ride out with Phil, Missy, and their kids. I told him, “I just need a ride to crazy-town. I’ll find my own way home.” His said in reply, “I can get you to crazy-town.” It was my first house party in well over six months (a long time for those of us more social than others). I arrived at Richards ancient rock house and took in the fall outfit of the Ozarks. Orange, red, purple, brown, pink you name a fall color, and these woods provided it. The party hadn’t kicked off into full swing or attendance, so I busied myself tracking down a beer. While perusing, I noticed the drums were set up in the living room surrounded by other gear ready for a jam. This is where I needed to be.
My nose led me to the back den where a couple of bongs were circling like buzzards. After smoking my fill (when the bongs stopped being filled), I exited out the side door and came around the front and was met with a chorus of, “Solo. Solo.” I thought to myself, somebody’s got to be first. I entered the house went to the drumset and began playing. Nothing too flashy. Just something to kick off a night of jams, which ensued. People kept arriving and the music kept the night full of sound. It was bliss considering what I had been through over the last year-and-a-half. I knew many of the people who were in attendance making social interaction plentiful, a text book rockin’ party.
The amazing thing is, my friend and guitar/studio man, Perry, had said something the day before. He encouraged that I might find some hippie chick to hook up with for the night, maybe longer. I did not need convincing. Neither of us could have guessed he would turn out to have the gift of prophecy.