Heavy

“You don’t have to die, you know.”
“I … I know.”
“Then why are you trying to kill yourself like this?”
“Because I’m tired of this life and the lies I keep telling myself.”
“Is that all?”
“No.”
“Then what is it?”
“I’m just tired of failing over and over and over. I’m tired of losing and being lost. Tired of a life without control or direction. Tired of being a fucking joke or punchline. Tired of being me.”
“Well, you do seem miserable as shit.”
“I’ll drink to that.”

It was a conversation I had in a dream. I don’t remember the particulars of it other than I was sitting in a chair talking with another version of myself. I looked disheveled and worn out. I looked beaten by the toll of life. The other me, the one that sat across from the broken me, was in a suit with a novelty tie. He looked healthy, young, and concerned.

Frankly, he had every right to, even if he was wearing that ridiculous ensemble.

In real life, up until about a month and a half ago, I was passively trying to commit suicide.

It’s kind of hard to tell this story without context so I need to go back to the point of my life when I started to lose control and my confidence in myself.

Back in the beginning of 2009, I met a girl on Match.Com. She was ambitious, beautiful, and filled with life. We fell for each other hard. We spent countless hours together and in many ways we were inseparable. I took her to dinner to meet my folks and they approved. My friend’s all seemed to like her and could tell that we were both very invested in making it work.

It was that same year where my plans to buy my aunt’s home were to go underway. She had remarried and was planning to move in with her new husband in his town home. It had always been my dream to live in the same town I grew up in. My parent’s were literally four blocks away, my high school and college friends still lived in the general area, and the school system was amazing. Additionally, I had plans to have my brother and his wife to move in until they had made enough money to purchase a place of their own. My sister-in-law was to become a doctor and I knew that I had very little time to spend with my brother before she nabbed a gig that could take them anywhere in the 50 states.

I felt that this was the going to be the big beginning of everything for me. I had a girl that I was madly in love with along with a home to tend and mend. I figured that one day I would get married, have kids, and they would receive the chance to have a quality education. Before the sale, I asked my then girlfriend to move in with me. We had only been dating for seven months but I felt that it was the right decision.

Because love is blinding, you tend to overlook some of the smaller blemishes that come with the complete package. No matter which way you spin it, a leaky container of almond milk is still a leaky container of almond milk.

You don’t notice certain behaviors. You gloss over a dysfunctional family situation. You never look for patterns because being logical wasn’t ever on your mind. You’re just happy to be with someone who loves you back.

Or that’s at least what you assume.

The house was purchased in late August. We all settled in by early September. By late September I could tell that there were going to be issues.

Small disagreements were turning into larger fights. Everyone was assuming a very passive aggressive stance. This was amplified when my brother and his wife purchased a new puppy. As the situation unraveled, relations between all parties were starting to become untenable.

Then one week in late October I suffered a fever, followed by a root canal, and then a full blown Achilles’ tendon rupture.

I had never been physically hurt before. Never broken an arm or a nose. I’ve had your typical aches, pains and sprains but never anything that required surgery and rehab. Based on the tone of this story, you can guess that it went as poorly as you could imagine.

I was placed into a cast that went up just below to knee. I was told by my doctor that I was to be in a cast for two months and then after that I would be able to wear a walking boot and begin rehab. This was mildly devastating for me. I was always a heavy kid growing up so I was conscious about my weight. My junior and senior years of high school I went back to running cross country and track and eventually took my 230 lbs self down to 165 lbs. I became a decent JV runner and clocked a 5:14 mile toward the end of my senior year of cross country. At the conclusion of the season I ran the Chicago Marathon in the fall of 1999. It was there that I vowed never to allow myself to balloon back up to my heaviest weight.

Fast forward to the tail end of November and my brother and sister-in-law have moved out. They can no longer tolerate my girlfriend’s behavior. I am wracked with guilt for thinking that all of us could live in a house together.

It is the beginning of December and we are now sitting in a half-emptied house. I am now missing out on the rent money they provided to pay the bills. To make matters worse, the girlfriend has decided to quit her job and go back to school full time to acquire her certificate/license to become a full-time hair stylist.

Around the same time, I finally get out of my cast and start the rehab process. Things are going well on that front until we decide to throw a New Year’s party at the house. Thirty guests arrive. At some point, I remove my air cast as it is bothering me while she decides to pound a pitcher of mojito and descends into a fit of rage. I meet her in the kitchen to ask her what is wrong and she proceeds to berate me.

“You family is a bunch of liars. Your friends don’t like you. You are a piece of shit. Fuck you. You don’t deserve me. Your whole life is bullshit.”

I stared at her in wonderment. I’ve never heard such vitriol pour from her mouth. Every statement more venomous then the last. She continues on with her prattle, cutting into me while I stood there in disbelief. Her jaw slackens, the eyes narrow. The words are like a small razor blade working over my face.

With that I tell her I’m going to my parent’s house and that she can have the honor of kicking out our friends.

I take three hard steps toward the garage. On the third step, I crumple to the ground, slamming into the garbage can. I can feel searing pain in my ankle. I yell into the ground, “Why did you kick me?!” When I look back I see her across the kitchen with an angry sneer on her face.

“I didn’t fucking kick you,” she snapped, her hands now landing on her hips. The scowl on her face was so pointed it could pierce through a phone book.

I knew right then that I had re-ruptured my Achille’s tendon. I crawled toward the garage, opened the door and closed it behind me. I laid on the cement floor clutching my ankle muttering to myself no, no, no, no, no, no …

A minute later the door flew open. I could see her standing in the doorway. She approached me and hovered over my body.

“What the fuck is this bullshit?”

“I’m in a lot of pain. I think I fucked up my ankle again.”

“Fuck you. This is your way of getting out of an argument isn’t it.”

“No. This is really fucking bad.”

She crouched down and got inches from my face.

“Well you deserve it. You’re a fucking pussy. A fucking faggot. No one likes you because you’re a fucking piece of shit. A real fucking asshole. Fuck. You.”

The tears welled up in my eyes. She got out of her crouch and walked back into the house, slammed the door, and continued to drink. It wasn’t until moments later when my friend, Steve came to my aid, helped me upstairs and handed me a painkiller. It barely had any effect that night.

The next day she apologized. She said she had no idea what had happened. She vowed to be better. That she would make things right. I didn’t care about that. I was worried about my ankle and if it was actually fucked again. Concerned about how this would delay me getting back to health.

A few days later an MRI confirmed what I already knew. It was a full-on rupture. I received the call at work. I hung up the phone, hobbled my way to my car, and cried.

I would have surgery a few days later. This time the cast they put on me went up to the middle section of my thigh. My leg was placed in a permanent seated position. I had a terrible reaction to the anesthetic and hallucinated after I got home. The next day I would have a full on nervous breakdown and threatened to crawl into the basement where my tin snips were so I could remove my cast. My brother drove over with a prescription pain killer authorized by the doctor and BBQ beef sandwich. He told me to shut up and go to sleep. So, I did.

Over the next few weeks, things went from bad to worse. It was apparent that I couldn’t make payments with her not working and my brother and his wife no longer paying rent. My finances were in ruins and my girlfriend didn’t seem to care. I got her a job as a waitress to bring in some money to help with the mortgage and bills. At some point in mid-January during dinner she said she was hoping to go back for another year of school to get a teaching certificate in lieu of finding a full-fledged stylist job. My brain buckled and I shut down.

It wasn’t until I confronted my father about what had actually happened on the night of the New Year’s party that everything started to fall into perspective. I hadn’t known about some of the things she had done to my brother and sister-in-law. I didn’t know about some of the things she had said to my friends in passing. It turned out that she had been trying to build a perimeter around me to keep everyone away. She was actively trying to pit me against the people that I loved and loved me. It was the first time I had heard about Borderline Personality Disorder.

My sister-in-law provided me with a number of documents about the disorder. Everything lined up. It wasn’t one of those moments where you go to Web MD and through vague descriptors, believe that you either have Meningitis or Brain Cancer. It was the very definition of on the nose.

On a Friday night, we both went to bed. She passed out early as she had class to attend at 7 in the morning. I stayed awake the entire time staring at the ceiling and finally turning on my side to weep into my pillow. Eventually she woke up and I pretended to be asleep. She dressed herself and walked toward the bedroom door. She turned back toward me and said, “I’ll see you soon. I love you.”

With that she left. I could hear the garage door close and I began to cry heavy tears. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was choking on my emotions, my feelings, the whole situation. I grabbed my crutches and made my way to the bathroom. When I flipped on the lights I could barely make myself out. My eyes were bloodshot red and blood was pouring out of both nostrils.

That evening I asked her to leave and I never saw her once after that.

Since that moment in my life, nothing has really felt right. Emotionally I have struggled with bouts of depression along with moments of distrust. I initially found it hard to date and feel like anyone was being truthful or sincere about their emotions or feelings toward me.

Physically, my body has been altered. Being on crutches for a total of seven to eight months changed my physiology to where I look much bigger in the chest. During a cruise while I was in the second recovery phase, a worker on the ship asked if I had played rugby because my upper body was gigantic. It also didn’t help that I had been drinking beer and pounding food like a man possessed. I had been consuming everything to deal with the depression, which wasn’t healthy.

It was in the fall of 2010 when I was finally cleared to play softball again. It was a nice milestone but I had broken a personal promise to myself. I weighed in at 210 lbs.

After my break up, I decided to head to a therapist and based off of my descriptions of the relationship she all but confirmed that my ex-girlfriend more than likely had Borderline Personality Disorder. She told me I was lucky because it could have been much worse.

While that was all pleasant and good, I still felt damaged and maligned. I felt taken advantage of and in turn I was spit on for trying to do the right thing. From that point forward, I never believed that I was truly in control.

MOVING FORWARD

2010 was a hodgepodge of things. I spent a lot of time physically recovering from my Achille’s tendon rupture. I also ended up being fairly depressed but I also learned to love and in a way, trust again. I would end up dating someone from my past, which didn’t go much of anywhere but regardless it was nice. I’d go out with a woman who was incredibly outgoing but I never thought I could catch up with and another who I believed was just too good of a person to seriously consort with someone like myself.

In 2011, I met a woman who would ultimately become my wife.

I wont waste a lot of ink telling this story because I already did so here.

The quick version goes something like this

• We met on OkCupid.
• She moved in quickly because she was living in Sheboygan, WI and driving back and forth really sucked.
• We lived together for years , got engaged and finally married in September of 2014.
• Something happened immediately after we got married. It’s something that my ex-wife can not adequately explain but essentially, she checked out of the relationship and I death spiraled into a depressive state.
• She moved out in six months.
• By July of 2016 we were divorced.

Despite all this we maintain a very good relationship and regardless of what transpired I hold no ill will toward her or her devil dogs that soil carpets like it was their God damn natural birthright.

Man, the things we do for love. Right?

SPIRAL

My depressive state kicked off early. If I had to rewind the clock, I’d harbor a guess that it was before we got to couple’s counseling. I’m not going to rehash it but I was a mess. Every passing day was just another comically sized anvil that had been dropped from the highest vantage point, careening right toward my skull.

When she signed the paperwork and finally moved out the worst in me decided to rise to the top.

Early on I was binge drinking, eating, and chain smoking cigars like a man possessed. Most nights I would suck down 3 or 4 of them and kick back a few glasses of whiskey. I’d then cook a frozen pizza around midnight and scarf it down without thinking twice about what I had already consumed during the day. I’d wake up during the night with constant stomach pain, knowing full well that the combination of food and drink was killing me. I’d scuttle back to bed, collapse, and then struggle to wake up after getting a combined 3-4 hours of sleep.

I would force myself into work. I’d do my absolute best to put in a productive day and then I’d go home and repeat the exact same dance as the night before.

About 11 months into this behavior, my wife and I went out for dinner to discuss the state of our marriage. I had asked for her to make a decision before her lease was up. I wanted to know if we were going to move back in together and really work it out.

She opted to move on and so I opted to burn my life down to embers.

A month later, I went to Panama to celebrate a good friend’s bachelor party. It was evident that something was wrong. I started to feel extremely worn down. I could no longer choke down the same amount of alcohol that I had been forcing into my system. I started to gag or get incredible bouts of heartburn that would last through the day, regardless of how many Tums or how much Pepto I tried to counteract it with. For most of the trip, I would retire very early to get some sleep. I would then roll around in my bed with stomach pain. On the day we were to return home, I remember eating a pizza for lunch and then felt a dizzy spell. I didn’t think much about it but it made me extremely uncomfortable and nauseous. I chalked it up to mild food poisoning, got on the plane and came back to Chicago.

For the next month and a half, I was crippled by debilitating headaches brought on by bouts of vertigo. When laying down I was typically fine but if I was standing or looking at a computer monitor, I would get occasional waves of dizziness. The room would spin and I would begin to get sick. Most days, I would close my door at work and put my head on my desk for relief. For the first two weeks, I tried to ignore it but I eventually forced myself to the doctor. That doctors sent me to a specialist and that specialist spent me to another specialist. Eventually I made it all the way to a neurologist who had no idea what was wrong with me.

According to my blood work my cholesterol and triglycerides were through the roof. My physician thought that maybe I had eaten before the test. I knew that those numbers were real. You can’t subsist on red meat, booze, cigars, bread, and dairy for an extended period of time. Sometimes, I would awake in the middle of the night to vomit it all up. My body was in a complete state of rejection.

After a while I decided to cut back on the cigars and start drinking fruit and vegetable laden juices. I did this for about three weeks without much change. One day I went to the race track to watch the ponies with my friend, Nick. Suddenly the vertigo stopped and with that I decided to cut heavy drinking from my act and switched to heavy pot use instead. In my passive suicidal state, I wanted to die but I didn’t want to be unable to walk in a straight line or drive a car for the time being.

I spent countless days laying on my back on the couch in my living room staring at the ceiling. Some days I would fiddle with my phone, scrolling through Facebook to the point where I was seeing the same posts three to five times a day. I would open up Twitter constantly, reading bullshit political news and tweets. It did nothing but increase my agitation and despair. I did nothing but rot in my own echo chamber, shooting out 140 character messages to no one and everyone. I’m sure that in some deranged way I was exacting some type of validation or praying for a release of endorphins through likes, shares, and retweets, never really grasping how pathetic I had become or just how insufferable my on-line persona actually was.

I was spiraling and lying to everyone in the process. Hell, if I had to guess, I was probably lying to my therapist about being okay while I was clearly not. I pretended to be fine while wanting nothing more than to not be alive.

That’s not to say it was all bad. I spent a lot of time trying to discover myself. I took four day vacations on my motorcycle or in my car. I would look at a map just to drive to a location because I felt like it. One weekend I found myself in Louisville, KY. Another time I ended up in Clarksville, TN because if the Monkees’ sang about it then it had to be cool, right? Nope. It pretty much sucked like you thought it might but hey, I had a beer and chicken wings at a crummy college sports bar and witnessed a grown ass man scream fiercely at a television set while his favorite college football team went belly up on national television. Sometimes it’s nice not to have allegiances.

While the trips were nice, they were nothing but a short reprieve from the storm clouds in my head. I couldn’t escape them. I’d look at something in my house and it would remind me of my failed marriage or I’d see a second-place trophy and replay the moment where I botched something on a critical dodgeball play from over ten years ago. While I was at work, I’d sort through e-mails and see nothing but sales rejections. Anything that could potentially be negative would be amplified by the power of ten.

Worst of all was there were days where I felt like I might break out of my depressive state but just end up in an even deeper hole. I would start attempting to run. At one point I had four days of straight good jogs under my belt. I had even started some very light speed work. Things were clicking. Then on one Thursday, I played a meaningless softball game in October before playoffs were to start. I went up to bat, laced a would be double into centerfield and my right knee made a loud popping sound. I went down on the ground screaming in pain. My softball season was over and as I write this, I am now forced to wear a heavy-duty brace because for whatever reason, I have a tendon that isn’t doing it’s job. So it’s either wear the brace and be slightly encumbered or risk not being able to walk for weeks at a time.

It’s not like I wasn’t trying to beat this. Some days were certainly better than others but most of the time, when I looked in the mirror I saw nothing but an abject failure.

Another element to this was that I pursued retail therapy to no end. It seemed like an endless stream of Amazon.Com deliveries had made it to my front door. As I write this article, I am literally surrounded by books that I haven’t even had a chance to read because I’m still working on the first one. It was a shortsighted attempt to try and boost my spirits and yet, despite a library of incredible artwork and literature I have collected it did nothing to actually solve the core problem of me not understanding how to work through my destructive tendencies.

Relief never came though. I kept thinking of the wedding and all of the people that I recited my vows in front of and how I had failed all of them. I’d think about all the time, money, and resources that went into that day. How many people gave up their weekend. Even worse, the people closest to me who gave up a whole lot of their life to help with planning and designing only to watch the marriage implode in record time.

Not even the cynical nihilist in me could crack a smile at that. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be the record holder for shortest marriage in your extended family? They should really hand out a patch for that.

So, I continued to do what I was doing and I kept smoking, eating, and killing myself slowly. The only reason I opted not to hang myself or put a bullet in my head was the thought of my nieces learning the truth about what I did. I kept thinking about my brother and my sister-in-law having to eventually explain what happened to me. I didn’t want my parent’s walking in to identify the blown apart skull of their first-born child. Instead, I wanted it to look more natural. A dead me covered in a blanket of Cool Ranch Dorito crumbs, finally done in by the heart attack I always dreamed of.

RECOVERY

There are three data points that I believe kicked off my road to recovery. One of them being extremely controversial and I have debated at length on writing about it as it could impact future employment or relationships but for the sake of honesty, I think it is important that I mention it. Please note that in no way shape or form am I advocating what I have done but one doesn’t write about depression and suicide without dredging up some dirt.

At a certain point in 2016, I experimented with a potent hallucinogenic. For most of my life I was strongly against the use of them as I had seen first hand the destructive power of the drug if it was treated like a joke. When I was in high school, I had a locker next to someone who had everything going for him. He was an all-state soccer player. He was incredibly intelligent and a lady killer to boot. Then his behavior changed and by senior year he was a gibberish spewing mess of a man who was suddenly on borrowed time. The last time I saw him was when I was working at the pet shop in either my freshman or sophomore year of college. An overweight man dressed in a tie dye shirt came to the register and asked me for a bag of crickets. I retrieved the insects and completed the transaction. I wouldn’t have even known it was him but as I handed him the crickets, he chuckled to himself and said, “Thanks a bunch for the crickity crickets, Osterhout, man.”

He died not to long after that from an overdose. He was at least 125 lbs heavier than he had been in high school. My lasting memory of him is not the star athlete or brilliant mind we all thought he would become but just a burnt out man with a bag of bugs off to feed an animal that only existed in his mind.

So, you can only imagine my apprehension about even attempting doing it but I learned more about the mind and the tunnels you go down. It forced me to stop envisioning my own failures and confront them head on. To stop pitying and victimizing myself. To learn from each mistake. Not all of this came at once but from a few repeated attempts to better understand, exploit, and control the darker corridors of my mind.

Most importantly, I had a say in all of this. For those who have ever steeled themselves and taken a ‘trip’ you start to realize that you have a choice. You can either take the ride and drown as the waves crash upon you or you can steer yourself to safety.

It was there that I learned being rudderless was no longer an option.

The second was my brother and my friends. To be honest, not too many people knew what was actually going on with me in the sense that I was suicidal. I managed to keep up appearances and proceed like nothing was wrong.

It wasn’t until my friend Woody introduced me to his friends Brian and Garret that things took a turn. Brian is a few years younger than me and on the road to marriage. Garret is an incredible singer and songwriter who has a knack for ripping my guts open with just an awkwardly placed smile. It was almost impossible to have a bad time with either of them.

At a certain point, I flew out to North Carolina with Woody to visit our mutual friend Larry and Garret. That trip was quite moving because the last time I had seen Larry, he was in a bad way. I think that if you asked him about his life story that he’d be honest in telling you that he was on a self-destructive road to Nowheresville. But Larry turned it all around. Aside from being an excellent tattoo artist, he is a dedicated husband and father. His family is beautiful and to watch him be all of these things was inspiring because I began to think, well, maybe it is possible to make it a life worth living?

After I returned home, I went back to my regular ways and continued to shamble around looking for substance. I’d go on shitty Tinder dates, eventually meeting someone who was really great but I couldn’t pull my own head out of the sand to make it work, so I let it wither away instead of embracing it.

It wasn’t until a few months later when Brian, a person that I had only hung out with a handful of times, mentioned something about my behavior.

One night, during a text exchange, I opened up a little bit about my feelings and how things were going with me.

“… it’s a relief for me to hear you talk about things this way. I know I don’t know you all that well … yet … but I worry about you sometimes dude,” Egan said.

“In what way? I’m a little curious,” I asked.

“Maybe I read into things the wrong way, but you just seem kind of depressed to me sometimes.”

And with that I realized that I was no longer hiding in plain sight. Brian, who had known me a total of seven months saw it for what it was and called me out on it.

He was correct. I was a fucked to death, walking contradiction of self-pity, and sorrow. I had been self-medicating for years and trying to suppress all my rage and my pain while it was slowly killing me mentally and physically.

Strike one. Looking.

One day when I was at work, I was talking to a colleague and I said to him, “You ever just go home, and lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling? You look around and see the thousands of things you need to do but you just can’t muster up the strength or courage to do them so you just do nothing instead?”

He replied, “Yeah, Jim. That’s called depression.”

Strike two. Foul tip.

The third was when I went to visit my brother in Milwaukee. In the outstretched great room of his house we sat on the couch amongst piles of children’s toys. We were having a fairly candid conversation about life when he mentioned to me, “You know, I always know when you are hiding something or trying to be evasive. You do this thing where you are self-deprecating, which is your thing. You use it for deflection. Not everyone can tell but I can tell because I’ve grown up with it.”

I didn’t even go down swinging. I watched that heater go right into the catcher’s mitt. I couldn’t even hide the pain anymore. I was starting to crack and with it the realization that my own brother now seemed to be worried about the state of my mental affairs.

I went back home to think about it. I needed to process my next steps. What was I doing? Did I even want to do this anymore? Did I actually want to live or was I just pussyfooting around the eventuality of suicide. Hell, why did I even care? I had been doing most of this because I didn’t know how I wanted to die, hence my use of the word passively. Regardless, it was so overly apparent that I was a disaster and I couldn’t even toe the company line anymore.

I was finally under the microscope in a Petri dish of my own making.

About 12 years ago, I walked into a Guitar Center and picked up a harmonica. At the time, there wasn’t a very deep YouTube selection of training videos so I grabbed a thin little how-to pocket book to learn. The end result of my self-education has been middling at best. I understand very basic concepts and can read tabs but I am not a natural nor am I able to improvise in the slightest.

One day I went over to my friend, Matt’s place to enjoy the pool at his apartment complex. We were accompanied by our mutual friend, Jeff.

It was a beautiful day out. The temperature was perfect and the sun was beaming. While we were there a small army of boys took over the pool. It was a birthday celebration. The kids were about the age of twelve if I had to guess. They were wild and spent most of the time jumping into the deep end of the pool, splashing the rest of the guests but no one got upset and everyone just agreed to let the fun continue.

It was an incredibly diverse group of people. There had to be at least eight different ethnicities represented. Everyone got along, some of them started conversations with the person in the pool chair next to them. Not to get overly sentimental about it but as the child of a mixed-race marriage, this was the perfect picture of the America I had dreamed about. People co-existing in a public setting and having a good time.

After the pool, we gorged ourselves on Matt’s homemade burgers and slaw. It was delicious. Afterwards, he grabbed a set of acoustic guitars. He handed one to Jeff and took the other to the opposite end of the sectional couch. I am pretty devoid of musical talent so I watched as they plugged away a number of songs, moving back and forth between some folk and 90’s alt-rock tunes. At a certain point, I started to nervously sing along with them, unsure if I was hitting the right key. After all, any practice I’ve had was in the shower or while I sang to the cat and dog. The cat, for the most part, hates it and will mew incessantly at my mediocre vocals. She’s a real tough critic.

About an hour or two into it, I remembered that I had my harmonica in my backpack. I asked Matt if he and Jeff could play Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” Somehow, by sheer dumb luck, I was able to hit my parts with some level of respectability. When it was over, Matt looked at me and said, “Man, that was awesome. I can’t believe you happened to have a harmonica on you with that exact key. Seriously, that just elevated the experience from here to there.”

And he was right. It felt good. It felt amazing. We weren’t great by any stretch of the imagination but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t have any hang ups about anything. I didn’t feel encumbered by my own self-doubt or the fear of being judged.

I was just able to be me.

And as I drove away from Matt’s apartment, I began to softly weep and before I could reach the highway, tears streamed down my face and into my mouth. I realized then that this was the best day that I had experience in forever and that I was able to experience happiness again because for that one split moment I realized that it wasn’t all so bad.

All of this pain, all of this hurt, all of this internal violence I had been lugging around was a burden. It was a burden that I didn’t want. It was one that I didn’t need to carry anymore.

So, I did what I should have done a long time ago. I pulled out my shovel and buried it with the rest of my perceived failures because I knew that if I tried hard enough I could make something worth while of the time I have here now and the time I think I still have left.

I thought about how finite everything is. I thought about my family, my nieces, and my friends. I thought about my dog and my ex-wife. I thought about the interconnectivity of it all and I finally understood the importance of wanting to living a meaningful existence.

I went to sleep and I dreamt of something better than the long nap in the ground.

Because I didn’t want to die.

TAKE AWAYS

Needless to say, this was a very personal piece for me to write about. The themes are extremely dark and I have debated at great length about how in-depth I wanted to get about my road to recovery. Whatever the case, I have always believed in being as genuine as possible. However, as I write that line, the hypocrisy of me trying to hide my depression and suicidal tendencies while trying to appear authentic is not lost on me.

I wrote this piece for multiple reasons. Chiefly, it was a way to awaken myself from a long creative slump that has lingered for sometime. I figured that if I wasn’t to create anything new or with substance then I should at least re-create a narrative from my life and turn it into a story. The story, albeit dark, tends to be more common than we think.

I’m not beyond my own vanity but I’m also not afraid of public humiliation or embarrassment. I’ve written stories that end up with me getting laughed out of a crowded room or being covered in vomit. I tell these tales because I think they are not just humorous but they are also cautionary ones about self indulgence, the stubbornness of youth, and bad ideas mixed with horrific execution. Each one is a learning experience for me and the reader.

Depression is real. It is a virus that will feed off you for as long as it can. No amount of ‘it can always be worse’ will ever help because you may just be waiting for you cue to walk into traffic – thus making it actually worse.

The deeper you sink the more elevated your suicidal tendencies become. Not a day went by where I didn’t think at one point about how much easier it would be for me just to jump off a building or load a 9mm bullet into the chamber of my Ruger because it was the easiest place for me to go.

Despite all of the ‘nice’ things I had in my life, I took it upon myself to retreat into darkest places of my soul. The worst part was that after a while it became all too familiar and comfortable. Day dreaming about jumping from a window was a lot easier to do than make another worthless cold call to someone who didn’t want to talk to you. And you take that example and say to yourself, well, if that person doesn’t want to talk to you then who really does want to talk to you? You justify the most nonsensical thoughts, behaviors, and patterns because nothing makes sense anymore. Finally, the nihilism builds up to a point where you would be happy to see everything you are and everything you own go up in flames around you while you lay in bed waiting for the deadly asphyxiation from a hundred burning plastic superhero figures.

I’m lucky. I know this. We all have our demons to battle and some of us have an easier time with it than others.

As of this draft, I am again seeing my therapist. I’ve set out to make attainable goals while trying to live a healthier lifestyle. It’s not always easy but then again, I’m of the opinion that it was never suppose to be. If it was then we’d all be living in some utopian paradise that doesn’t exist.

The most important thing I want to get across is that you’re not alone and there are plenty of avenues for help. In my case, I opted to avoid all of those and prolonged my suffering because I couldn’t muster up the courage to speak or act on it. The truth is that I have an incredible support system that always existed. I just neglected to realize that it’s okay not to be okay. That it’s perfectly acceptable to approach a friend or family member when you’re not feeling right. You can internalize your feelings for a long time but you can’t carry it around forever without incident. An infection is an infection and without proper care or treatment it will fester. You don’t need to do that. There are always better options.

The hardest thing I ever had to do was to admit this to my parents. My parents are wonderful people that have always been there to support and love me and my brother. To this day, it still burdens me that I had been lying to them about my mental state. I had fallen into debt because I neglected to be reasonable with my finances. That I was practically lying to my parents about my own health because I didn’t want them to perceive that they had raised a massive failure of child.

It sounds hokey but you do need to love yourself. That’s the first step in all of this. To be willing to look at yourself in the mirror and think, “Hey there, my dude. Let’s use that big brain for something good today.”

Tomorrow is a thing you shouldn’t take for granted.

I know that now and hope I never forget.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 It would be severely disingenuous to not mention a few important people that helped me through my darker days (listed in no particular order)

Ed Carter: Few people I know are as brave as you. You’ve been with me from the start of all this and I appreciate you spending the occasional long night with me to talk about it.

Brian Egan: We’ve haven’t known each other very long but you solved me quicker than anyone I’ve ever met. Thank you for being a constant source of positive energy in my life.

Tessa Lulloff: We may not be married anymore but you have always been there for me and I’m happy that we can still be best friends while we enter different phases of our lives.

Woodrow Hart: My dude. Thank you for being an endless source of encouragement. You got me out of the house when I didn’t want to go and adventure. You came to me when I was down. You’ve introduced me to new people and new experiences. I can not say enough.

Sarah Cade: You don’t give up and you know how to get through the bullshit. You taught me a lot of things about the process of grieving that I never considered. You were not just a pal to me but a refreshing slap in the face when I needed to hear a different opinion.

Garret Santora: No one carves me up and gives me a case of the giggle guts quite like you do, Gar Bob. You gave me a lot to smile about when I didn’t think I had otherwise. Also, thank you for being the inspiration of this stupid voice I do all the time. I’m sure everyone loves it.

Katrina Swiston: Without you, I don’t know where I’d be sometimes. You’ve always been a great sounding board and there when I had to get advice. Also, you’ve always been awesome about looking over my work and throwing me a pointer here and there. You are the best.

Larry Slaton: No one is quite like Larry because Larry is his own dude and I always appreciate that about him. He is one of my favorite people and he continually does things that absolutely astound and impress me. If you ever get a chance to watch him high kick and scream, I suggest you do that. It’s a real treat.

Mom and Dad: Wouldn’t have been able to write and finish this if it weren’t for you. Thank you for helping me discover the courage to work through this and fight for myself again. I can not thank you enough.

Mike Osterhout: You’ve always been an inspiration to me and I still can’t figure out why everyone thinks I’m the funny one because I maintain your sense of humor has always been better than mine. Thanks for calling me out on my bullshit when I needed it most. Love you.

Paula Osterhout: You saved my life the first time and I don’t know how I can ever repay you and your entire family’s kindness. You’ve been the best thing that ever happened to my brother and I will always cherish you.

My Nieces: Nothing alters your thinking like being in the presence of children, especially when those children are your blood relatives. You are both beautiful and you make me happy to be alive. I am excited to watch you grow, fight, and cause your parents great distress and you both turn into beautiful human beings.

Sally Ward: You are one of a kind, gurl. You’ve got the best kind of smile and more importantly, a great attitude that is infectious.

Brent and Amanda Lipinski: You are both what I aspire to be. A loving couple that makes it work and takes the time to go on real adventures with one another. You are both beautiful.

Jeff May: You were there the night of my big break and I can’t ever forget that or that Incubus cover you engaged in. Congratulations, you’re a real sex machine.

Matt Owens: In many ways, you always helped me put things in to better perspective. You’ve had some times and I am impressed that you came through that hellfire as clean as you did. Your constant want to help and engage me was necessary for me to get better. And finally, you got me into trail walking, which is something that has been extremely therapeutic and helpful.

JP Scheckel and Jon Chua: My days at work could have been much darker if it weren’t for the two of you. In addition to being great colleagues, you both bring a perfect blend of seriousness and levity to my life that I need on a daily basis.

Molly Goltry: Just thank you for being you. Thank you for being there when I needed someone like you in my life. Thank you for just being a beautiful person.

The Old Deadspin Crew/Twitter People: Nothing brings me as much joy and anxiety than being on Twitter. Despite that, you people have kept me relatively sane as you’ve been an outlet for my bad jokes and puns. Additionally, it’s been nice to interact with some of the funniest people on the Internet for an extended period of time. I know it sounds stupid but from me to you, I seriously thank you for bringing levity into my life when I so badly needed it.

My White Sox Crew: I had a lot fewer blue days at the ballpark with you all. Even the shitty games, which was 98% of them were awesome. I hope we do this for the rest of our lives.

My Softball Team: To be completely honest, playing softball with all of you was one of the few joys that I ever felt while I was struggling with this. The diamond was the one place where I felt I might be able to drop off my baggage. Thank you for dealing with my 6 straight game triples hitting streaks followed up my 4 game slumps and occasional dropped pop fly.

Finding Your Best You at the End of the World

NOTE: This essay was written on 9/20/2015 and was never published. I have had reservations about this piece as it is deeply personal and it includes some thoughts on my ex-wife, whom I care for very deeply. While there is nothing derogatory in nature, I am still sensitive to her feelings. At this juncture in time, more than a year since I began writing it, I figured it was safe to just drop it out there. I intend to have a follow up to this regarding dealing with depression, moving forward, and dating in your 30’s, which I should remind everyone, is just fucking terrible.


It’s the 20th of September. Today is my one-year wedding anniversary. This morning, I am celebrating it at home, in bed, with a sheet over my head. My dog and my wife’s cat are here. They’re in bed with me. My wife is not. She doesn’t live here anymore. Anyone with an eye for detail could probably detect that if they walked by my property. My Weber grill is sitting on the drive way. The ash collection tray features dozens of chewed up cigar stumps. I think I’ve forced myself to open up a bottle of Pine Sol once, however I can’t really remember what it was for. Maybe I wiped down a couch or something with it? I don’t really remember.

If you asked me a year ago what I envisioned marriage to be like, I could tell you that it wouldn’t be this. I lived with my wife for years before we got married. I believed it would be an extension of that but with more activities, long range planning, and gorging on delicious home cooked meals. Just to preface the meals thing, it would be a shared experience, one which I would slowly learn to participate in after I accepted the idea that meat and/or pasta was not necessary with every entree.

But as of this publication date, that did not happen for either of us.

I’m not going to go into the gritty details. That’s something that is between us and because I respect my wife, I don’t think it’s something for public consumption. What I can say is that it took both of us to get to this point and now we are both sitting in a position that has afforded us a lot mental anguish.

Our relationship was a little different than most. We met on OkCupid during the summer of 2011. She lived in Sheboygan, WI and I was in the suburbs of Chicago. We met in Milwaukee and shared lunch, a few drinks, took in a variety show act, and with no funny business, spent a night in a hotel because at 1:30 in the morning neither of us wanted to deal with the long ride back to our respective homes.

After commuting back and forth between Wisconsin for about 3.5 months, I did something insane and asked her to move in with me. Since her job at the podiatry clinic wasn’t lining her pockets, she said yes. Upon reflection, we were both insane. From there we dated for just over 3 years before we decided to get married. There were speed bumps here and there but the good times outweighed the bad.

And then we got married and things just kind of tumbled down hill.

Before things got to where they are, we had tried reading books, talking things out, and went marriage counseling. It didn’t work and it never will until both sides are committed to the process, which clearly we were not. Books actually need to be read and followed up by actions. Conversations about marriage need to avoid the circular patterns of placing blame and should instead be filled with talk on crafting solutions. Marriage counseling needs to be a place where both participants need to feel safe and ready to explore.

Marriage counseling is a weird animal. You go, sit in a lobby with strangers and wait for your name to be called. Usually there are uncomfortable chairs and magazines with crinkled corners. You see other couples go in. You see other couples go out. You look at them and they look at you and everyone is wondering the same thing, “Is this working for you today and if so, how can it work for me?”

When you get in, you sit down and you talk.

You talk about you. She talks about her. You talk about how you met. You talk about why you got married in the first place. You talk about why you are here together today and where you want to be tomorrow.

Then they talk to you about their credentials. They tell you about their process for healing. You nod your head. She nods her head. Since you’ve never done this before you assume that the placard on the wall is credential competency and that the healing process is infallible. So, with that false sense of security, you begin.

You begin with more talking. You talk to explain; you talk to heal. And when it doesn’t work, you talk because you’re paying to talk.

My wife doesn’t talk much. I do. I try to allow her to talk but there’s a lot of dead air. Because I’m an idiot, I just talk more and thus dominate the conversation. It was enough to where the counselor told me to politely shut the fuck up.

And I did. I shut up. I shut up to allow the verbal medication to take over. I shut the fuck up heal.

It’s not easy to admit your own faults but these days I’m getting pretty used to it. Counseling allows you to see the other person’s point of view. It makes perfect sense. You are not an infallible creature, no matter what you think.

At a certain point during this process, it just fell apart. I began to feel marginalized and disgusted. We would come home and be angry at each other about something the other party said during the session. Over the course of the week we would slowly mend the fences and then head back to counseling and start the entire process over again.

Wash. Rinse. Re-hate each other. With that kind of mantra, the counseling didn’t last long.

Not long after the counseling failed we discussed separation and agreed that it might be for the best. However, after she was gone, it was a shock to my system. After a few weeks of being alone, I couldn’t find anything that made a hell of a lot of sense. Upon the completion of my 5th jigsaw puzzle and binge watching television shows on Netflix, you start to dive head first into your relationship.

You start by writing things down. Trying to remember sequences of events and conversations. You think back to the beginning of the relationship and if you missed any red flags. You think about the middle of it and if some casual barb had a heavier weighted meaning than you had initially thought. Then you think about the potential for the end.

And here is where you collapse in a pile of self-doubt and anxiety because you can’t stomach the feeling of watching this whole thing explode in your face. It was always in the back of your mind but now it’s looking at you deep in the fucking black of your pupils because now it’s not just talk. The end is a very real, tangible, and scary as fuck possibility.

My emotional decent started early. As the quality of our marriage collapsed so did I. That might speak to the constitution of my mental health but I think there were a lot of mitigating factors that lead to that. I can’t speak for my wife; however, I am sure that the everyday slog that we were going through was not helpful in any way to her psyche.

Mental health is important. Anyone who brushes off another person’s depression with a simple, “They just need to see the bright side of things,” isn’t listening or is just incredibly lacking in empathy. It’s much larger than that. I have not been diagnosed as clinically depressed, however I have experienced cycles of depression due to periods of intense stress and anxiety. If my short-term bouts of it are even remotely similar to those who regularly suffer from depression, then I am sorry. It is a life crippling event that sends you into the swirling toilet bowl of misery for hours, days, or weeks.

For me, I started to believe that I was wrong. Wrong about mostly everything in my life. I felt that the decisions that I had made in this world were to be judged and placed under a microscope. I believed that I deserved this. I felt like I had wasted the time and money of my friends and family. More often than not I blamed the state of the marriage solely on me.

This thought process is completely asinine but when you are vulnerable, even irrationalities like this start to permeate the cracks in your battered mental shield. It doesn’t take long before you’re just a wreck and you’re looking for an answer anywhere.

For me, the answers came in the form of a bottle, food, pot, and heavy cigar smoking.

Sometimes you are able to get out of it. On a certain day you wake up and think that everything is going to be okay. You believe that either it will work out or this will all end and you’ll feel better again. Hours later you walk by a picture on the refrigerator or see an old memory on Facebook and you place that good thought back in the cupboard and you find those answers again.

Maybe I should preface this by saying that I’m lucky. I had a solid upbringing by social standards. My parents are still together. They came from nothing and have done well for themselves. My brother and I never fought, in fact to this day we get along extremely well. We both went to state colleges and finished and we were lucky enough to walk away with no debt at all as our parents covered tuition for us. We also work for our father. There are not too many people who have it as easy as I have (I say I because I don’t speak for my brother). Self admittedly, I think about that a lot and whether I deserve the life I have today. I didn’t earn this. I was born in it and I try my best not to take it for granted because entitlement scares the living hell out of me and the older I’ve gotten, the harder it has been to look away at people who haven’t had that kind of shot. You wonder if they would have done more with the opportunities. Would they do better or possibly piss it away?

I write that because a lot of people might just see this as the whining of a mid-30’s male who is having a life crisis. Frankly, it’s absolutely true and I wouldn’t blame you for saying, “Hey, dude. TL;DR. Hope you fucking get it together and have a nice life.”

The truth is that I struggle to cope with a lot of things. I think a lot of people see me as a jovial guy with lots of friends, and a self deprecating sense of humor. The other side features a grown man-child that struggles with his own personal finances, time management, and personal bouts of irrational anxiety. I have a personality that is sometimes addictive that causes me to either research issues to exhaustion or burrow down a rabbit hole of collecting certain items to completion (IE: Comic books, trading cards, action figures, all of the starting quarterback’s jerseys for the Chicago Bears since Jim McMahon). Additionally, I believe that I have very real issues with food and a massive problem with disappointing others, which has caused me to collapse when it comes to high pressure situations in competitive sport.

Those issues, albeit, are very minor. The word context is not lost on me.

At a certain point, I went to a counselor for my issues. In short, it was extremely helpful for a time and for anyone who is facing any form of adversity I would highly recommend it. I would also recommend it for anyone who is just looking to get a different perspective on things. My counselor is nice enough to let me know that occasionally, I can be a real fucking asshole from time to time. Additionally, she thinks I am a highly rational person who has the ability to come to multiple conclusions based on my level of empathy and willingness to see problems from multiple points of view. So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Over the course of the summer, I managed to clear my head and go on a few trips around the mid-west. On one of the trips I took my touring scooter and headed to Kentucky and shot around southern Illinois up to St. Louis and then headed back home. It was a 3-day excursion that was very helpful in rebuilding my psyche. Later I took a trip to Pittsburgh and eventually ended up in a small town in Ohio.

Truthfully, I took those trips to just get away from people. It was also an experience to help find myself. While I had a destination in mind, it never occurred to me that I actually had to get there. I found myself taking odd detours, stopping at various state parks and landmarks because I really had no where to be.

What is amazing was how well this actually worked for me. I told my friends, family, therapist, and wife. I had a new perspective about how I was going to look at things!

Then, one day the calendar flipped and I found myself in September. It didn’t take long for those old memories to resurface. Even with all of the exercises that I’ve employed in the past, my anxiety and depression seemed to get worse with every passing day.

On the 19th, one day before my anniversary, I joined a group of friends on an excursion that proposed we start at a bar in the city, hop on a bus to Toyota Park, tailgate, watch a soccer game, and a bus ride back to the bar.

While at the bar I talked to an old friend and her fiancé about their impending marriage and their wedding day intentions. As this conversation continued down the dark path of just how stupid seat covers and chiavari chairs are, an entire bridal party came waltzing into the bar. A big to do was made. Glasses clinked, congratulations were passed around, and smiles the sizes of prize winning cucumbers beamed across the faces of the newly wed couple.

All I could do was sit there, raptured in envy.

Wasn’t I just here a year ago? Was I this happy once? When do I get mine?

And when my nails finally broke the skin of my forearm, I rolled down the sleeve of my shirt and continue a measured and rational conversation with my friends.

Some cycles of madness just seem to die harder than others.

Perhaps some never do.

That Time I Ate A Box Of Crayons (Originally Published in 2008)

It’s not that I don’t care about my body or my life it’s just that I’m really not that too concerned about it – that is, the long term consequences I suppose.

I tend to invest a lot of my time and energy in thinking about and doing stupid things.

I think about why we haven’t applied more thought in capturing the potential energy generated from humans pushing revolving doors.

I wonder about how when people kiss, what percentage of men and women decide to keep there eyes wide open.

Then I think about really dumb things.

Like what could I eat for money?

This past Saturday I ate a box of 24 crayons.

I will repeat that. I ingested 24 non-toxic, OfficeMax brand crayons. Wrapper and all.

And I did this all for money. And there is no shame in that because if I hadn’t done it for cash you would all think I was just a bit off my rocker.

Which, I seriously might be.

So, the origin to all of this is that the softball team I play for tries to have a BBQ once a summer. We usually have plenty of food, drinks, a bags tournaments and stay in a backyard. We laugh and tell stories until eventually someone throws up a stupid bet and finally someone with massive, mammoth sized balls comes along and says, “Well, for how much?”

The guy with the big balls? Yeah those belong to me. Oh, you mean the half-Chinese guy with the spirit shooter the size of Soviet Russia on a grammar school map. That’s Jim Fucking Osterhout.

Last year I ate a Chinette plate. This year I ate 24 crayons. I can tell you that both of them were most displeasing.

To be upfront, and hopefully not sounding like a complete idiot, I know that what I am doing is probably bad for me. This whole thing is ridiculous and so ill conceived that one day I might seriously injury myself in the process but as long as the money is good and there is a challenge I will probably take it.

It’s all a learning process. Wisdom and intelligence points to be garnered in the role playing game of life.

The act of eating the crayons was actually really simple. I would break them into sections of three and then just swallow them whole (like Aspirin) aided by the help of a soft drink for flavor. In this case it was Diet Dr. Pepper, Coke and Diet Root Beer. And like most learning processes they all have a curve. In this particular contest, I think I went at it too fast. I thought I could just get it done in one fell swoop when actually I should have taken my sweet time. Regardless, I still managed to finish in at a respectable clip.

But truly, the most important thing that I have discovered is that the body does not digest paper. And nor does it digest wax. And if you need proof I have pictures of my stool that I captured while I was at work.

And if you are seriously more disgusted than impressed with that last statement then you Sir/Madame have obviously not thought about the logistics of this.

I took myself all the way up to an almost vacant floor of the Merchandise Mart around ten o’clock on Monday. Based on last year’s performance with the paper plate I knew this was about the time I would finally rid myself of the foreign contents inside of my stomach.

When I got off the elevator, I ran to the bathroom. I went through the double doors, quickly undoing my belt and clumsily trying to drop my pants at the same time. I grabbed the first possible stall in the house, sat down and released. It was rough. And tough. And the only way I could describe is like it is that it felt like I was passing a crayon. A very sharp crayon.

As the first scouts dropped into the toilet I couldn’t help but look. And as the ripples dispersed I could make out the image of a piece of yellow crayon, still perfect with the paper wrapper around it.

At this point I realized two things:

1. I am as stupid as a seven-year-old.
2. I still had twenty three other crayons inside of me.

And after that, things got dicey.

I grabbed onto the toilet paper dispenser and threw my left hand in to the air. Waiving it wildly as the army of crayon chunks pushed their way out of my body. It was as if my ass was reenacting the fire bombing of Dresden. And this lasted a long time. At least until the last stupid wax figure had made its way out and nose dived into the tainted, murky poo pool below me.

Chuckling to myself, I sent out a text message to my closest friends, informing them that the crayons had made it to their final destination and that I would send some of them a picture of my rainbow masterpiece soon.

And then I realized something. How was I to take a picture, especially when all of the sediment hadn’t fallen to the bottom of the toilet? Surely I could lift myself up and take a picture but no one would be able to make out a thing. It would be just like another blurry shot of the Lochness Monster or a lame photo of a UFO.

So here I was at a crossroads: If I didn’t wait, the picture would just look like a dirty pond but if I didn’t wipe soon I would have a gigantic mess of dried brown paste stuck to my asshole sooner than you could ask,  “Who here has seen the Duck Tales movie?”

So I made an executive decision. I stood up, grabbed my shirt , lifted it to my belly button and waddled my way out of the stall and into the neighboring one. I watched myself in the mirror as I looked like an idiot, half naked creeping into another part of the bathroom hoping to God that no one would walk in and see me prancing into another stall with a shit covered asshole.

I jumped in and closed the door and proceeded to wipe myself, taking as much time as I needed so that the toilet to my right would settle down and I could finally grab the perfect picture. And as luck would have it, my patience paid off. When I finished with the big dig in stall number two, I gleefully walked over to the first toilet and smiled. There, inside that brown bowl, I could see the colors of a beautiful waxy rainbow.

I took my photos and sighed. The nightmare was finally over. I had done something so stupid, so absurd that I might as well be dead, yet here I was, alive and allowed to tell the tale.

And as I flushed the toilet I realized that not only was I richer in the wallet but in my heart as well.

Friday Night Jr. High School Dance Class (Previously Published on 5/12/2011)

When I was in 5th grade our family moved a town over, traveling one mile south from Westchester to LaGrange Park. It wasn’t a huge relocation but the students at my new school were a different breed from the ones I had become accustomed to at Westchester. Like most transplanted kids, I found it hard to adapt. By the time I finished grade school in LaGrange Park, I realized that the new group of friends I had made were a bunch of hot dork sandwiches so I divorced them like Gingrich and decided to fly solo when I got to Park Jr. High (Authors Note: I actually never had any dork sandwich friends to divorce in the first place).

Like most typical junior high schools, we had three or four area grade schools funnel in to create one disgusting super class. Because of my relative obscurity and timidness in the social scene, my older cousins suggested that I join Friday night dance class.

“Dancing? That is soooooo gay and sucky,” I told my cousins and my mother.

“Why don’t you want to do it? You will meet people and I bet it’s fun!” my mother chimed.

I avoided the topic the best I could for the first few weeks but everyone was right. If I was going to make friends then I had to do something social. So with very little enthusiasm, I signed up for dance class. They had already finished week number two so I would certainly be behind in my training but what did it matter? I wasn’t there for the technical aspect of the box step. This was an exercise in socialization.

My first two Friday classes went by without incident. I picked up on the Cha-Cha and something else that I never used and obviously forgot, pretty quickly. My only issue with the class was that it was held in the school’s cafeteria and with 250 plus bodies it quickly became an oven. By the time class was over it stunk of sweat and self-esteem issues.

On what was to be my third week of dance class, my mother was absent from the house. She had taken a trip to China with my Great Uncle Steve. In turn, my father was now running the show. Every night my brother and I were cooked something with steak or ground beef. This was a huge departure from the regular fare that my mother cooked with great zeal.

That Friday, however, I was feeling sassy. The summer before class started I happened to be down in Texas visiting some relatives. One day we were shopping at a Ross (dress for less!) when I saw a shirt that I just needed to purchase.

Now, I need preface this because currently this product is as lame as hell but in 1994 this shit was the rage. It was a red silk shirt. And while you are laughing at that, I say fuck you, kids were all about silk boxers at the time so silk shirts were the next step in the evolution of things.

Anyway, when I came down stairs all dressed to go to dance class my father looked at me quizzically.

“You shouldn’t wear that.”

“Well, I’m gunna.”

Suggestively he pushed, “Well, you should wear an undershirt with that shirt.”

“Look, you’re not my boss and I want to wear the shirt.”

Dad looked at me again, “I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Well you’re wrong.”

Argument over. Me – 1 Dad – 0. I was 12 fucking years old and it was about time I got my way.

We got in the car and he took me to the school. It was about a mile away. When he dropped me off I told him thanks and he said he’d pick me up when the class let out. I walked inside and approached the bathroom that connected to the cafeteria. I hit the urinal and then took a look in the mirror. My hair was a bit mussed so I splashed some water in it and combed it around. When I was done I walked out and found some of my peers – Bill, Joey and Alex. We all sat down and started jawing for about 10 minutes. Soon the teachers came in and we all stood up to go look for a dance partner.

As I got up my friend Bill pointed at my shirt and asked, “What’s that?”

I looked and there was a small water droplet by my stomach.

“Nothing. Must have gotten water on my shirt when I was combing my hair it in the bathroom,” I said.

But the nothing was something. It was the first bead of sweat in a Congo line of many to create a nightmare of epic proportions. There was a storm brewing and I was too stupid to see it on the horizon.

The dancing began and we went through the regular bag of shit; box stepping and Cha-Cha and the likes. We all circled through the dances and then picked new partners with each new dance. This went on for about 25 minutes and it wasn’t until long that you started to see ties being loosened and people wiping their foreheads on their sleeves. When I went to do it I noticed that my shirt was starting to turn from a bright red to a dark burgundy. Even more revealing was instead of the shirt being light and breezy it was starting to stick to parts of my body.

With every passing minute I could feel the group’s warm stares on me. My face started to redden and I was now dripping with sweat. I kept looking at the clock noting that I had at least 45 minutes of class left. I tried to relax as I was passed off to the next dance partner. I took a deep breath and suddenly during a lull in the music I heard a familiar voice scream out, “JIMMY OSTERHOUT PISSED ALL OVA THE BACK OF HIS SHIRT!”

It was my friend, Joey. 

Nix that. My former friend, Joey.

The proverbial record screeched and the eye fucking commenced.
Every single ocular ball not clouded by teenage onset-cataracts was trained on me, searing and pointed. We were all sweating like we had just escaped from a Hanoi prison but I was the one being made of as an example. I could hear a few giggles from the crowd but the nail in the coffin was one student named T.J. yelling out, “What a fag.”

That was the bomb. The groups laughter surrounded me and I was eventually shrouded in my own shame.

My dancing partner looked at me. My eyes were welling up with tears and my face was burnt red with embarrassment.

“Are you … are you okay?” she whispered.

I couldn’t even look at her eyes. I lowered my head and my fingers slipped through hers. I slowly walked out through the same bathroom door I had walked so confidently through just 45 minutes earlier.

In the pocket of my Dockers was a quarter. I walked over to the payphone and dialed home. My father answered the phone and I told him I needed a ride.

“Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

“You were right. Just come get me.”

I hung up the phone and walked out side of the school. I slumped down on the hard concrete steps. Eventually, Dad’s green Volvo pulled up. With my heavy shoulders, I slowly walked up to the car and slumped into the leather seat.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

“No,” I mumbled.

He hit the gas and the school disappeared into the distance.

Dad looked at me, put his hand on my knee and said, “And we’ll never have to. We’ll never have to.”

Bachi the Cow Puppy (Originally Published 12.02.2015)

On November 29th, our friend, Bachi was laid to rest. He was a 13-year-old rat terrier mix.

Bachi was my wife’s dog. She adopted him when she was 21. The day she was told Bachi was available she braved a snowstorm to pick him up from the shelter. The way she tells it, she took Bachi because he was the first small dog available. When she got there he growled at her.

It was love at first sight.

Over the next nine years, Tessa would move from apartment to apartment with Bachi. He was a constant companion to her. I would finally meet up with them in July of 2011 and eventually, after not a lot of prodding, I asked her to move in with Wedge (my corgi) and me. So, one day in September we packed up my mini-van and drove the lot of them down. In addition to Tessa and Bachi, I also received Bones (the miniature pincher that loves to poop everywhere), and Elsie (the cat that can say hello).

This new family dynamic took me a while to get used to.

  • The dogs now had a herd mentality and stopped listening to basic commands like – No, Stop, Don’t Eat That, Don’t Shit There, DUDE, NO STOP!
  • Bachi and Bones decided that since the previous owner’s (my aunt) dog decided to use the house as a toilet that they would happily oblige as they must have felt grandfathered in.
  • I spent around $10K in home improvements to replace carpeting, which was now inducing asthma and to install a new 6-foot fence to keep her little terrors from jumping into the neighbor’s yards.
  • Elsie would kill mice and leave them in places for me to step on in the middle of the night. Sometimes she would leave them in the bathtub, half alive and cause Tessa to shriek in terror. Because of this, I have become a master of luring mice into small toilet paper tubes and letting them loose outside. I still have no way to get mouse guts out from between the toes. If you can think of a better solution then I am all ears.
  • Did I mention the defecation?

Despite all of these issues and my new hatred of the colors yellow and brown, I learned to love them all. Especially Bachi, who I aptly called Cow Dog, Cow Puppy and Little Cow Cow.

In my early days with Bachi, I would let all of the dogs into the backyard in the morning to relieve themselves. During this time, I would get dressed and eventually try to herd them back into the house. On multiple occasions, Bachi would find an opening in the lattice under the deck and hide. This was his way of saying, “I do not like being left alone during the day so you should stay home and hang out with me. If you don’t like it then I’m going to make you late for work.”

And he did. Close to twenty times.

Eventually I screwed plastic Rubbermaid container covers over the damaged lattice to keep him out. As the weather continued to beat up other areas of the deck, he would smash his tiny head through other widening holes and wiggle his small dog body in.

He was such a resourceful little bastard.

One day, Bachi wouldn’t come out. I was already 20 minutes late for work when I shouted into the sky, “FINE! THEN YOU WILL STAY THERE AND HANG OUT WITH THE SQUIRELS!“ This was really a stupid threat because he loved to chase and bark at them.

At 2:00 PM, through a weird game of telephone, my neighbor called my mother and then my mother called me to advise me that a small black and white dog had jumped the fence and was sun bathing on their porch.

I raced home to retrieve him, however when I got there he was gone. In a panic I started to scream his name for five minutes straight. I tore up the entire backyard searching for him, lifting up wide leafed hostas and other accumulated foliage that I had obviously neglected due to my lack of a green thumb.

Eventually I heard a small bark in the distance.

I continued to shout his name and the barks grew louder. I ran over to the south side of the fence and saw him from a block away running toward me. I ran out to greet him and gave him the biggest hug in the world.

God, I was so angry with him and that much more angry with myself that I would think he would have stayed in the yard. Two weeks later the big fence was installed. Bachi won out and so did the United States economy.

Another time, Tessa was out at work on a Saturday. I was left to my own devices and decided that I would hang out in the basement and play computer games until my eyes decided to sting.

When I finally emerged from my techno dungeon, I found the wrappers of Godiva chocolates strewn about the house. When I finally found Bachi, he was tearing through another two dark chocolate candies in the bedroom.

Like any rational person I screamed at the top of my lungs, “OH MAH GOD YOU ARE GOING TO DIE AND TESSA IS GOING TO FUCKING KILL ME!”

I dialed Tessa to tell her what happened and I went into full panic mode.

“Okay listen. Everything is under control but you need to know that Bachi jumped on top of the kitchen table and tore open that box of Godiva chocolates and I think he might die but I will fix this. Okay. Hope you are having fun at work. Love you. Bye.”

I called my parents next and with the exact same level of calm I told them what I needed.

“MOM! You need to get me something quick! Bachi is dead in like 5 minutes if you don’t get me that shit that you drink and makes you puke. Also I need that cylinder with the plunger and numbers on it that you stick into stuff!”

There was silence at the other end, “What? Wait? Who? What is dead? Are you drunk?”

“JUST GET ME THE FUCKING PUKE DRINK!”

5 minutes later my parents arrived with a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

My Dad says to me, “It’s alright. Calm down. Where is your syringe?”

“Syringe? That’s what I told mom to bring. The turkey baster thing with the numbers and shit on the side. MOM! Did you bring that fucking thing so we can fill it with the puke maker?”

My mother just sighed. “No, I did not bring that as you were not very descriptive on the phone. Calm down. I’ll be right back.”

5 minutes after that I was holding Bachi in my lap with my finger forcing his mouth open while my Dad shot hydrogen peroxide down his throat.

And because I deserved it, Bachi clamped down and sent his tooth through my thumbnail. I screamed in pain, put him on the ground and danced around the living room like a moron. 30 seconds later he puked up $10 worth of chocolate.

He could really be the life of the party.

Bachi’s tenacity for trouble was only equaled by his love for food. He would watch like a hawk for anything dropped to the floor. He was equal parts genius and scavenger. Of all the dogs I have met, I think he would have been ready for the apocalypse as he would have figured out how to survive.

This is where the story turns for the worst. About three weeks ago, Bachi developed a cough and started to wheeze. Tessa would take him in to the vet and they would initially diagnose it as potential bacterial or viral infection. It seemed legitimate, as it wasn’t much different than your standard doggie cough.

But it grew worse and an X-ray revealed some sort of blockage but a true diagnosis could not be provided unless she was ready to spend $3000 – $5000 on a test. The test would be able to determine what he really had, however if it was as the doctor’s had feared, then he would require surgery or if it was the worst case scenario (a collapsed bronchial tube) they wouldn’t be able to do much more for him.

As the weeks wore on, it became apparent that Bachi was not responding to the antibiotics. His breathing became more erratic and his love of food started to dissipate. Despite this, he would continue to greet you when you walked in the door, jump onto your knee and wag his tail in delight before humbly retiring to his doggie bed to cough and wheeze from exhaustion.

Bachi is Tessa’s child so I cannot imagine the pain she felt as she watched his health go to hell over a three-week span. Truthfully, I’m only his adopted Dad but I can say with certainty that it was a terrible thing to witness. Not just watching him wither away but also seeing the one you love become an emotional wreck.

On Thanksgiving morning, Tessa was to come over to eat diner with my family. She was delayed when Bachi had a seizure. After things were in the clear, she made her way over and we took him to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving lunch. We then packed up and drove up to Wisconsin to see her parents. The car ride up, Bachi laid down, occasionally picking up his head to see what was going on but it was a far cry from his usual game where he would look out the car window and bark at other cars, people and dogs the entire ride up.

The following morning Tessa could barely get him to eat his normal food let alone a sliver of hot dog or ham.

Saturday I did not see Tessa or Bachi but I had planned on visiting her that Sunday morning. When I got to her place I was greeted by Bones but not by Bachi who was laying down in his mess of doggie blankets. I walked over to him, his tail still wagging and could hear him uncomfortably breathing.

Tessa said he hadn’t eaten and that he barely touched his food yesterday. To our right, we could hear his faint but labored breaths.

A few hours later and after much deliberation, I made a call to the emergency vet and bawled as she spoke to me about options. Based on his decline in health the decision made itself.

That afternoon, we watched him go to a peaceful sleep.

Admittedly, of all the challenges I have ever faced, this was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. You think that you can be strong or act as some pillar of moral support for your friend and your wife but it doesn’t work because you have been affected by this little fragile creature in a number of miraculous ways.

In that instance you realize these incredibly basic lessons about love, anger, fear and patience were learned because of the unconditional love of a friend. You find out just how much your life has actually been enriched and how much of your pessimistic soul has been turned by this little sixteen-pound, four legged pal.

It’s gut wrenching. It is terrible.

And all you can do is watch and pray that you did the right thing.

I have always believed that the reason a dog’s life is so short compared to a humans is to impart certain elements of wisdom. That we shouldn’t take life for granted – our own or others. That companionship comes in many forms and that sometimes the most important things are right in front of our faces. We forget those basic things in our daily scramble to climb a progressive ladder toward personal fulfillment. A dog doesn’t give a fig about any of that. A dog just wants your time, a tummy rub and maybe a small piece of steak when no one else is looking.

At an early age I attended a lot of wakes and funerals. I come from a large Chinese family and if I had to peg it, my first one was when I was four or five years old. It’s a funny thing, of all the friends and family members to walk through my life, I cannot remember a death being this hard to stomach. My neighbor told my parents that putting his dog to sleep was harder than watching a family member pass away. After witnessing this, I have to agree with him.

The only thing worse than witnessing death is being forced to make that judgment call. I know my wife feels the same way.

A few years back, when I first adopted Wedge, I came across two things that made me understand the kinship between dogs and humans. The first was an episode of Futurama where the main character, Fry (who had accidentally been placed in a cryogenic state in the 90’s) has a chance to be reunited with his dog from the past. In a series of flashbacks you learn that the dog searched high and low for his master and eventually waited out his life waiting for him in front of the store he worked at. I think I cried for half an hour and hugged my dog the entire time.

The second was a poem that Jimmy Stewart read on The Tonight Show to Johnny Carson. He muses about his dog being a hellion but concludes with a beautiful section on how we form a deep symbiotic relationship with our pets and just how empty we feel without them.

Despite all of the pain, I will affirm that there are some things in this world that are really worth getting your heart broken for. Bachi was one of those and he ultimately made me a better person for it. You adopt a dog to act as a companion and to possible save him or her from being trapped at a shelter. During that entire process, you might possibly learn that the dog is the thing that saves you.

From the bottom of Tessa’s heart and mine, we will love you always, Bachi.

I’ll miss you my little cow spotted friend.

 

Taking a load off.

 

A regal stroll.

 

Patiently waiting to go back inside.

 

The gang.

 

In time out.

 

I Was That Naked Guy On I-74 Who Was Covered With His Own Puke (Originally Published in 2008)

It was 11:12 A.M. The sun’s torrid rays impressed its power on the four-man dome tent I was laying in. My brow was moist with perspiration and as I slowly became coherent, I noticed my sweat had soaked into the hooded sweatshirt I had used as a make shift pillow during the night.

In my bag I could hear the faint but audible alarm of my Blackberry. It had been going off since 8:00 that morning but I had failed to act upon it. The events of the night had proven to be too much for my body as I was nothing but a hung over, crippled mess still trying to discern what had exactly happened.

I brought my hand to my face and touched the stubble on my neck and chin. My tongue glazed over my dry, gritty teeth. In the back of my mouth a piece of gum from the night before sat stale and flavorless. I crawled to the front of the tent, unzipped the door and looked outside.

A gentle breeze glanced over the tent and welcomed me to the dawn of a brand new day. I could already see that most of the equipment from yesterday’s party had already been taken down. Indeed the seventh annual gathering for New Life Tattoo’s had been a success. Matt and Joel walked back and forth through the huge backyard, moving objects and picking up trash. On my knees, I spat my gum into my hand and pitched it across the yard, watching it sail into a nearby set of tree branches. I continued to observe, focused on the team cleaning the yard and watched them working diligently like a bunch of crazed bees attacking Macaulay Culkin’s face in My Girl.

I started to crawl around the tent again, making sure I had my mentionables; cell phone, keys, wallet, etc. I ran my hands down my face, scratched my sides and dropped my hands over my ankles in an attempt to stretch my back. As my right hand grazed my calve I let out a small yelp as if I had hit a fresh wound. I quickly turned my head and looked down upon my ankle.

I sat there, stunned, gazing at my body with wonderment.

There on the higher portion of my shin was a tattoo. A tattoo that read “SPUN-IN” and underneath the lettering was two yellow and red twenty sided die.

I stared at the image some more, blinking my eyes in rapid succession, hoping that what I just saw was some sick mirage. This, however was not the case. I started to piece together the fragments of the night and suddenly realized that what was once a hilarious inside joke had become a permanent fixture on my body. And although I liked the artwork of the dice, I was shackled with the odd feelings of regret and delirious confusion.

I looked again at my watch and decided that it was time to move on. It was getting late in the day and I had told my team that I would make it back in time for a 6:30 softball game.We were in the hunt for the playoffs and with a 1 – 8 record I knew that I was the difference maker we needed. (Authors Note: We lost the game and haven’t made it to the playoffs once in four seasons)

As I started to pack up, Jeremy (New Life Tattoo’s owner and proprietor) stopped by my tent to check on me. He told me that they were trying to clean up as quick as possible so that he and his crew could leave for Cincinnati. More or less, a polite, get the fuck out of here, dude.

I threw some of my things into my bag and began changing out of the costume I had worn the night before during the pajama party. This get up consisted of a girls hoodie donning a light-up rabbit and a pair of women’s large, magenta colored, Hanna Montana shorts. After two or three trips to the car I started to break down the tent, quickly placing it’s myriad of pieces into neat piles.

Everything was perfectly fine until I had to physically fold up the tent. The hot sun continued to beat down on me while I struggled understand the basic principals of tent dynamics and their foldable dimensions. Within minutes I quickly started to deteriorate. The copious amounts of alcohol that my body was still housing from the night before began to stream from my pores. My shirt slowly formed unmistakable sweat spots while my forehead dripped uncontrollably. I felt ill and after screwing around for over 20 minutes I became horribly upset, picked up the mess of a plastic and nylon and threw it into the back seat of my Honda Element, vowing to deal with it when I got home.

After my hissy fit I began to feel horribly uncomfortable. My stomach felt like it was ready to erupt into flame and if left unchecked I could release a shit storm of a problem in my drawers. Yet, despite this, I decided to walk into the owners house, asked for a cup of water, and politely said my good byes to everyone.

I jumped in my car and hit the road, with the only desire of having a safe and uneventful trip back home.

Before I got to the highway I stopped at a Casey’s Gas Station off of Route 150. While I gassed up the Honda, I picked up two large bottles of yellow Gatorade in hopes it would settle my stomach, hydrate my body, and relieve me of a now body throbbing hang over.

After I finished at the gas station I jumped back onto Route 150 and turned the corner at University so I could hit Interstate-74. It was here that I was presented with my first challenge, eastbound or westbound? And since I didn’t know the area well enough, the wrong answer prevailed.

As I immediately joined the highway I knew I was going the wrong way. Already cursing myself for wasting gas, I watched for the exit signs. As luck would have it, the closest one was seven miles away. I found a long song on my iPod hoping it would cover me for the duration of the detour.

When I got the chance to turn around I didn’t waste anytime. I drove quickly up the ramp, checked left, checked right, checked left again, proceeded and tore back down the interstate.

And perhaps that was my second mistake. As I balanced out from my erratic driving my body started to break into a cold sweat. Nausea was starting to set in and I began panting quickly. I tried turning up the air conditioner, flipping the vents so they pointed directly into my face. I breathed in and out, switching from heavy gasps of air to performing the Lamaze. I was trying to stabilize myself from the inevitable but it was too much. I had to pull over.

I flipped my blinker light on and began to slow down as I pulled onto the shoulder. I could feel the wump wump of the car as I drove over the grooved emergency lane surface. I reduced my speed from 80 mph to zero within seconds. Behind me, bearing down quickly in the right lane was a semi truck.

I knew that time was limited but I needed to keep my cool. Stressing out about the situation would only make things worse. I had to open the door yet I was too scared as the semi was close in proximity. Regrettably, I decided to hold it until the semi had passed.

Key word: Regrettably.

My left hand clutched at my mouth but much like the events of the mighty Hurricane Katrina, my hand proved just as weak as the levies of New Orleans. The flood of vomit was just too much and began to spray in every which direction. Without following any specific pattern, the puke lashed out at breakneck speeds, shooting at all angles, attacking everything my car had to offer; windshield, dashboard, steering wheel, radio, windows, locks, handles.

And of course there was me. I appeared to bear the brunt of my stomachs violent force. The insides of my nose were dripping, my mustache dampened, and my t-shirt, shorts, underwear and shoes had become a victim to the “Free Gallon Water Night” my stomach provided as a parting gift.

I hacked and coughed and slumped back into my chair. I looked at myself in the makeshift mirror on the driver side sun visor and said aloud, “What the fuck. I’m a twenty six year old male. How can this happen?”

And it was after this statement the ever-present odor of fermenting puke hit my nostrils. I kicked the door open and started the process all over again, spilling bile all over the emergency lane of I-74.

I unhooked myself from the seat belt and stumbled out of the car. I clutched at the body of the Honda, hugging the back and finally staggering over to the passenger side. I dropped to both knees and started retching again. My head and stomach kicking wildly while cars drove past, slowing down one hundred feet before and speeding up twenty five feet in proximity so that they needed not bear witness to the soaking wet twenty-something male acting as momma bird to a hungry highway.

When my stomach had finished playing it’s game of Sorry with my life, I looked up at the sky and took a heavy breath. I was relieved. I had coughed up what appeared to be two days worth of the recommended daily amount of calories. And at this point, realizing that I was just happy to be alive was quickly erased when I looked down upon myself. I was covered in head to toe with my own sick.

I had become my own personal bacteria farm.

I took off my shirt and threw it onto the passenger side floor. It was one of my favorites so I decided that I wasn’t going to let a little (or a lot of) puke sully a good piece of attire. I began to rummage through my bag of clothes. I removed my Hanna Montana shorts and decided that this would make for an ample rag. I started to dry off what I could in the car. The steering wheel, the chair, the windshield and the dashboard were my primary concerns and the magenta colored crap magnet proved to be a viable component to success. The rest of the car clean-up was managed by my underwear and my extra t-shirt acted as a towel for my body.

Which brings us to an interesting problem. I was plum out of clothes. Clean clothes at least. At this point it really shouldn’t have mattered but I still had the preference to at least try to keep as much bacteria and viral matter off of me as possible.

So, after much ado, I somehow was able to find two pieces of attire. A single white Hanes tank top and a pair of silver mesh shorts I purchased from the American Air Force Academy in Colorado. This was the end of the line in terms of my fashionable men’s clothing.

I took my remaining garb in my one hand and looked at the space available in the car and much like my clothing, it too had reached its limit. There was no where to change. The drivers seat was drying out, the passenger side floor was occupied with puked covered clothes while the seat was filled with electronic devices I was trying to dry off. In the back of the car were posters I wanted to keep mint while the other chair contained my bag and a large unfolded dome tent.

I lowered my head, sighed, and walked to the other side of the car. The dry wind of the Midwest whipped past my face as stood facing on coming traffic. As I watched and timed out the best possible moment, I unfastened my belt and let my pants and boxers hit the asphalt.

It was there at 12:05 p.m. on September 22nd of 2008, the whitest, sorriest sack of shit ever to grace Gods green Earth stood bare ass naked on the shoulder of I-74.

And with that I got back into my puke-covered cavern of a car and continued my trek down the interstate.

As I made my way down the road, I relaxed and tried to logically sort out my problems. First of all, I was still bothered by the fact I had to hit a toilet. Despite my stomach’s relentless oral assault, I didn’t want to chance it’s ire with anything from the anal cavity. To be cliché about it, he had already won the battle and I sure as shit didn’t need him to win the war. I also needed to get some kind of food into my system to at least make me feel normal again. I decided, that my best chance trying to clean myself up would come if I stopped in Champaign.

When I hit the more populated stretch of town I tried to figure out where to eat. I first pulled off on the Lincoln exit and quickly realized that there wasn’t much as far as chow was concerned so I hopped back onto the highway and made for Neil Street because I could at least remember there was a Taco Bell there.

However, the more I thought about it, the prospect of eating USDA grade D meat products when my stomach was already upset, along with the idea of bathing in the Taco Bell sink seemed to turn me sour. So I decided I would pop into the Panera. At least there was bread I could fill up on.

In the parking lot of Panera, I noticed that there was a lot of hustle and bustle. I glanced at my watch realizing that I had managed to land at the height of the noon lunch crowd. Despite this, I was able to grab the last available parking spot in the lot. Good luck appeared to be on my side.

Or not.

It didn’t take the thought process of a genius to deduce that my disheveled appearance would readily scare the denizens of Champaign, however when I passed an Army Sargent on the way to the bathroom I took special note of his facial expression – pure disgust. You could tell that in the back of his mind he was saying, “This is the America that I’m putting my ass on the line for? Fuuuuuuuuck That.”

These reactions were only amplified when finally saw myself in the bathroom mirror at the Panera on Neil Street.

My hair had become a wiry mess, the roots starting at the base level of the scalp and the ends criss-crossing to the point where it resembled a 90 car pile up on the Autobahn. On the right center of my head a ducktail stood up at a 45-degree angle, signaling to anyone who dare look in my direction that I had just raised my white flag to professionalism and dignity. My mouth was still covered with white crust from the 15-minute fight I had with my stomach, while my shoulders sagged to portray the image of personal defeat.

Top this off with the mustache, wife beater, mesh shorts, and a pair of puke covered sneakers and I looked like your run of the mill meth user who had just woken up from a night in the biohazard dumpster of an AIDS clinic.

And despite all of this, it wasn’t the worst part.

In my haste to get back onto the highway as quick as possible, I had forfeited the chance to adequately view myself with a reflective surface. Suffice it to say, because of this and my already hazy memory of the nights events, I hadn’t counted on the glitter.

As I looked at myself in the mirror, the small gold flecks began to sparkle with different intensities as the eco unfriendly incandescent lighting reflected and flared off of the various one-hundred flakes of pixie dust on my face, neck and chest.

The sentences, “possibly homosexual?” and “wanton crack whore” formed as captions under my visage in the mirror. I had gone from looking like a simple drug addict to what Bobcat Goldthwaits career has become: cheap, easy, an relativly unfunny.

Determined to rid myself of the past 30 minutes, I grabbed the sink handle and threw it upwards trying to draw out whatever hot water I could. I ran my hands through the stream and then took my fingers through the tiny Mount Everest in my hair. Like its big brother it stood tall and determined and refused to go down without a fight.

On my left was the soap dispenser, drilled into the counter next to the sink. I pushed down with my left hand and cupped my right hand underneath the spigot.

Nothing. Nothing other than the audible sound of suction, the sweet story of my life.

So I pushed again, harder and angrier. And after a litany of curse words left my mouth I walked out of the bathroom, past the everyday consumers, and into my car – dejected, rejected, and caked with puke and glitter.

I started the car and drove off from the Panera, deciding to wash up at the next best place a horrific stinking pile of shit might go to avoid all human contact – the mall. The mother fucking mall.

As with my previous encounter behind the wheel, this task proved to become a process as it took me over five minutes to find the mall entrance closest to the food court. However, after I parked, nothing could stop me from completing my goal of becoming 15 percent cleaner than I was just then.

I strode by the elderly climbing the staircase for their ride back to the home on their death house trolley. I passed up the mouthy young kids who had chosen a life of working retail rather than pursing the final two years of high school. All of them turning their heads as they watched the most determined man in the world bee line from the mall entrance to the bathroom.

And as I crossed the finish line, it was there that I could take no more. I glanced at myself in the mirror and instead of directly washing myself I staggered defeated and found the first clean stall that I could, dropped my mesh shorts and slumped down onto the toilet.

In my mind, I tried to conceptualize what had just happened. Not just the last thirty minutes but instead the whole weekend. What had I done? What had I learned? What will I just try to erase from my mind?

I let out a sigh. My hand caught my chin and braced it, and as gravity took my head my eyes became fixated on my newly minted and not so personally well received ankle piece. The words “Spun-In” completely visible. And slowly the terrible metaphoric irony overtook me – my day, much like others was just another hysterical, albiet painful unforgettable memory, much like my tattoo.

And as I sorted it out in my mind, a small smile crept over my lips and the tired faint sounds of my laughter echoed through the men’s bathroom walls.