I’ve just spent 2 hours looking through dozens of job postings for positions that I am nowhere near qualified for. Every job I looked through required either a degree, or experience, preferably both. Unfortunately for me I have neither. All in all it made for a disheartening start of my day. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for the millions of people out there who find themselves in a predicament worse than mine. Folks who have been looking for a new job for months, if not years. People who are unemployed, who have seen their life savings drain away one dollar at a time. Corporations increase their profit margins to all time highs, while eliminating the workforce that made them profitable in the first place. But I digress. Today’s exercise in futility was not to illustrate what is ailing the U.S. in the 21st Century. Those problems are far more complex than corporate greed. My aims for this blog are a bit more modest.
What I am aiming for with the start of “Lost Around the Block” is to create a small platform to voice my rather personal frustrations over the fact that I will be turning 35 years old. And all the dreams and aspirations that I held near and dear to my heart growing up just withered away in complacent silence. How did that happen? How did things change so drastically for me? How did I go from wanting to be a writer, to a Help Desk Coordinator, getting yelled at by miserable individuals who are making 3 times the salary that I make? How the hell did life pass me by without me even noticing? That is what I aim to find out. While rekindling my love affair for telling stories that are little slices of life.
10 years ago, I was finishing up on a couple of summer courses that I took during my first freshman year at Chicago State University. I was about to turn 25 and life seemed pretty damn awesome. I was an out of state student, living in the dorms on campus. I was looking forward to heading back home to NYC and see my family for the first time in 4 months. My relationship with my future wife was in it’s infancy. It was new, and exciting, and we couldn’t wait to spend quality time with each other every weekend. I was making new friends that were vastly different than the ones waiting for me back home. Most of my new friends, were Mexican. They grew up in two parent homes, which was incredibly rare thing in the group that I grew up with. My new friends also seemed to have been raised much more conservatively than my Nuyorican, east coast upbringing. And then there was my new home, Chicago. Coming from New York it seem so small and quiet. To me it was rather quaint. The food was good, the city was clean, the hipsters didn’t seem to be always be high on coke. It was the perfect place for me to learn how to slow down.
I was Majoring in English, with an emphasis on Creative Writing. I had earned a 3.6 GPA during that first year. This was a hell of an accomplishment for me, because my GPA in high school was 1.6. My professors were courteous and nurturing, and they genuinely seem to like me. And since I was a few years older than the rest of my freshmen classmates, I took genuine interest in going to class, and learning the curriculum and participating and doing all the things you do when you are an eager student, ready to take on the world. Yeah, life was amazing back then.
I was so sure of myself. I thought I had life by the proverbial balls. I was convinced that within a few years after moving to Chicago, I would be writing my own indie comic book series. It would be published by Drawn and Quarterly or Fantagraphics. My stories would be populated with the people that I had encountered all my life. My minority characters would not be gangbangers, or junkies. They wouldn’t be pushing dope, or have criminal records. They wouldn’t’ be driving flashy cars. Or waving the flags of their home country 24/7. They would be hard working people. Struggling through life to get ahead head. They were complicated, perhaps emotionally stunted individuals who just wanted to be loved. They listened to rock music, and hip hop, and old boleros. They spoke eloquently when it was required, but could keep it gully when the moment called for it. They were going to be real flesh and blood, three dimensional characters. And I was going to be heralded for illustrating women and minority characters in a way that had not been done since the Hernandez bros “Love & Rockets” comic series of the 1980’s.
Yeah life was full of possibilities. But the passage of time has a tendency of weathering things down. As the semesters wore on, my attention span dwindled. I got tired of being dead broke in my mid twenties living off student work. So I left school in my senior year for a job with a fortune 500 company to do tech support. The job was not exactly rocket science but it paid well, so it had that going for it. Initially I had every intention to go back to school, but I kept getting good raises and it just got harder to walk away from the cash. Well that was until the great recession happened. Than those raises that were so appealing for the first few years just tapered off. The job became more micromanaged as well. Everything was about doing much more with a whole lot less. Eventually the job stopped feeling like a blessing and started morphing into an imprisonment. I found myself stuck. I hated the job now, but the allure of returning to school and finish what I had started became less appealing, since no one seemed to be hiring grads. I was stuck in limbo.
The new car smell that my relationship with my future wife had, eventually wore off. And the work needed to make a long and fruitful relationship work became harder. We went through a couple of bad patches. We constantly argued. We would have those good, angry shouting matches, where everyone spoke loudly, but nothing was ever heard. It got to the point that I wanted to just disappear. I had grown up in a household full of fights. Daily arguments came naturally to my family. And I am convinced that those fights, and the threat of violence that I experienced during the early part of my life had a real negative effect on how I came to handle stress as an adult. Each fight robbed me of my strenght. I felt dark and lost after each confrontation. To the wifey, our arguments were just a natural part of the process, so she never took it to heart like I did. To this day, I think we both still see the toll that a good argument takes quite differently. I think it’s nearly impossible to articulate the sheer amount of energy that needs to be exhausted to make a relationship work. One can easily rest on their laurels and just put things on cruise control. However that is how I believe folks wake up one day next to their long time partner wondering who the hell is that imposter sleeping next to them. We would in time persevere and salvage a relationship that clearly meant the world to us. I married her on Friday, October 22, 2010, on a beautiful summer like day on a beach in Cabo San Lucas. It was nearly 8 years after I had first laid eyes on her pretty face. We were surrounded by her family and some of my friends. It was a beautiful yet simple ceremony. And one of the most memorable days of my life.
Off course with marriage comes all the other things that take up time and energy. Buying a house, joining finances, talk of children and family, and pets, and melding visions of the future, and dealing with personal crisis, and all the stuff that convinces you that following dreams of yesteryear’s is a foolish notion.
My new young friends, got older, and life got in the way of some of their plans as well. Some got pregnant. For others, the responsibility to their parents and siblings led them to leave school and make a living to sustain their families during the hard economic times. Eventually enough time passed that we all just kind of stopped talking. Except for the occasional comment on Facebook.
I also stopped going back to NYC. My mother moved to Puerto Rico. My brother and my sisters, kinda started spiralling into a darker place. But what truly killed any desire to go back home was the death of my father. I got a call from my baby sister. She informed me that my dad had an accident. Apparently he had been released from the hospital a couple of days earlier for some relatively minor heart procedure. As the story goes, he felt a bit faint. He tried to make it over to the bathroom to take his meds, when he passed out. My father’s head crashed into the bathroom sink, breaking his neck in the process. He would lay on the floor for almost 24 hours. Only reason my father was found was because his dog apparently barked for several hours and it eventually got his next door neighbors attention. The cops broke the door down and found my dad barely conscious on the bathroom floor. He was taken to the hospital and my brother was notified.
My father was paralyzed from the neck down. The news did not come as a shock to me. The truth was I had been expecting a dreadful phone call about my father for years. I had been estranged from him for the better part of a decade. Some in my family said that my dad and I never got along because we looked and acted so much alike. The real reason was that my dad had an unhealthy relationship with cocain. And when money was tight and he could not get his fix he became an angry, offensive, and at times, violent man. As luck would have it, I was the only member of the household that was big enough, and old enough (well as old as a 15 year old could get) to get in his way. Those were not fun times.
I went to vist my father in the hospital along with my future wife. The day was November 22nd 2006. It was the day before Thanksgiving. The moment I walked into the hospital room where he was being cared for, he let out a small cry, “My boy, my boy.” Unlike my father, who laid in a bed, a shell of his former self, I had complete control of all my limbs. Yet I could barely move forward. His hair, once dark, thick and curly, had thinned substantially. Almost all color had left it too. It was mostly white with patches of grey. His mouth was toothless. His face seem gaunt, and pale. The only part that seem familiar to me was the stubble. Although the jet black stubble that once decorated his face had now turned white. When I was a kid, before my brother and I were to go outside and play with our friends, we would have to ask for my father’s permission. Once he granted us his blessing, we would kiss him on the cheek. His prickly stubble would sting our young faces. And if we complained about how much the stubble stung, he would reach out for the back of our heads, and playfully rub our faces on the stubble. We would protest and try to pull away. He ate those moments up. After laughing for a bit at our discomfort. He would kiss us on the forehead, tell us to be careful and to go off and have fun.
In my eyes my dad was always this large hulking figure. 6’2 250 pounds. But from the looks of him I could see that the past few years had not been very kind to him. He had easily dropped about 60 pounds. He looked so frail and tired and sad. My god he looked so fucking sad. However my dad was always a bit of a showman. He always was one to put his best foot forward. He wanted to leave people with the impression that he was a man that always had it together, even when the world around him was falling apart. This day was no different. He put on a great front for my wifey. He was charismatic and charming, and rather heartwarming. He came off as this sweet, kind old man that just ran into a bit of bad luck. However his luck would surely be changing for the better any day now. So there was no reason to feel concerned for his well being. The wifey would later ask me, how could the man she meet be the same angry frightening man I described to her so often? I’ve never been quite able to answer that question. When my dad was living with us, not a night went by in which he didn’t kiss us on the forehead before sending us off to bed. A day did not go by in which he did not say how much he loved us. He was big on hugs. And his favorite pastime was to watch the New York Giants games on TV with his two boys.
Anger, frustration and lack of understanding makes it easier for us to make people into villains. It’s rather easy to turn loved ones into monsters. I am not saying I misunderstood my father. No, he said and did some awful things. His behavior during the months leading up to the night I forced him out of our apartment, was erratic and violent. And I was convinced that if I did not get him out of there, one of us, including my father, was going to be hurt in some potentially violent way. However what I failed to see was that he was a sick man with a drug problem that needed help. I didn’t know enough about the subject, I wasn’t mature enough to help my father. None of us were. We could not get past the hurt he was causing us, and I guess, we eventually wanted to give it back in turn.
I would get to see my dad one more time the following day on Thanksgiving. My mom made him a plate of arroz con gandules and turkey. The wifey and I went over to the hospital with my brother. I stood next to my father’s hospital bed, and fed him the plate that my mother made him, much like he must have done to me when I was a baby. It was one of the most heartbreaking things that I ever would experience in my life. The rest of the afternoon, my dad talked about having gone to Chicago to find me; which to be honest neither my brother or I actually believed. And He talked about taking rehab seriously and vowing that he would be walking by the end of the following year. We all sat there an agreed and encouraged his new found optimism. But I think deep down inside we all knew that wasn’t going to be the case. My dad was 54 years old, had no insurance or money to pay for surgeries or rehab treatment. None of us had the financial means to help cover the cost of his medical bills. Everything was pretty much FUBAR. Deep down inside we all suspected that there would not be a happy ending.
I kissed my father on the forehead for the very last time that Thanksgiving evening. I promised him that I would be back to see him as soon as I could. The wifey and I would be leaving back for Chicago the following day. I told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me too. I left the hospital room with the wifey and my brother. That was the last time I ever saw him. We spoke a few times over the phone during the following weeks. My sister would hold the receiver up to my fathers ear and we would have a conversation that way. But each time my father would seem to cut the conversation shorter. Each time I spoke with him he also sounded more and more weary. A part of me thinks that maybe it became too painful for him to talk to me from so far away. Maybe it made him miss me more and the thought of dying without possibly seeming me again was too much for him. Another part thinks that maybe he grew to resented me for not being there next to him. That perhaps he wanted me to leave the life I was trying to establish in my new home and return to my old one. To be a family once again. More likely than not, he was just growing tired and depressed, and just wanted to die.
On March 6th 2007 my father passed away from pneumonia. He was 54 years old. My brother and sister had my father cremated. There was no viewing, no ceremony. And I for some unknown reason, never could bring myself to go out there and mourn with my family. I just couldn’t do it. I cried, I cried like a babe when I got the news. So many contradictory emotions went through me that day. I just couldn’t make sense of what exactly I was feeling. There was a sense of loss, guilt, anger, hatred, all these feelings that I just couldn’t come to terms with. I guess I still haven’t really. Because I haven’t been back to NY since that Thanksgiving. It’s been almost 7 years now.
As I was nearing my 30th birthday things got kinda bad for me. I developed anxiety, and night terrors. I realized that my ability to concentrate on any one thing had gone from bad to worse. My mind became almost fractured. My thoughts would jump from one bad idea to another. I became rather dark and moody, and pushed people away. My performance at work plummeted too. It was then that this creeping notion that my life was coming to an end started to really take hold. I had this feeling of dread as if my days were numbered. This feeling became worse as I realized that my weight had gotten completely out of control. You see I am an addict as well.
Both my grandfathers were alcoholics, and both died of cirrhosis of the liver. My dad’s poison of choice was weed and cocaine, and the heart problems that he suffered later in life were do to his earlier substance abuse. I saw what drugs and booze had done to once proud men and I promised I would never follow their footsteps. So I swore off drugs, and I only would have a drink during social events with friends. Never alone and never to get drunk. And if I did happen to have one to many drinks then I would make sure to allow several weeks to pass before drinking again. However the source of my addiction was a lot easier to get too than alcohol or narcotics. For me my addiction was food. It always had been. When I was 13 years old I tried out for the New Bedford High football team. I got weighed by the coach and I came in at 305 pounds. Now to some of you that number might seem alarming. But for me it was an odd source of pride. I was a big kid. I never had a problem handling such a large body. I played basketball with my friends. Spent hours hitting the handball on a hot court. I didn’t walk with a wobble. And my size pretty much kept the bullies away. For the most part my size had been a bit of a shield. However once I turned 30, that benefit became a depriment. I had an anxiety attack and was taken to the hospital. The nurse weighed me during the check in. I came in at 411 pounds. That number scared the living shit out of me. What was scarier still was the fact that I knew I had lost some pounds over the previous year or so. I am convinced that at my heaviest, I was closer to 450 pounds. My weight was going to be the death of me.
That is when I decided to make a change. Deep down I knew that if I kept traveling on the road I had been on all my life, I would not live to see 40. And if for some odd reason, my body and mind did manage to somehow survive the ordeal that I was putting them through, I was sure I would morph into a much darker and less hopeful soul. I needed to inspire change within myself. But coming to terms and understanding how or why I accumulated so many bad habits throughout the course of my lifetime would not be easy to discern. I sought help from a psychiatrist to deal with my anxiety. I learned a lot about myself and my past during those sessions. I started to make inroads about my anger issues. I started losing weight. It has taken almost 4 years, but I’ve dropped 80 pounds. My anxiety attacks went from two a week to maybe 2 every six months. I am less angry and a bit more even keel. My concentration levels have improved by exercising, and taking supplements. I currently find myself hovering at about 330 pounds now.
New beginnings are not easy thing to partake in. Changing one’s trajectory takes a herculean effort, and a level of understanding of oneself that is hard to come by with the distractions of modern life. I am not certain that I will succeed in my attempts of becoming whole. I don’t know if I can overcome all my shortcomings. I can’t say for certain that I will amount to anything that is worthy of the gift of life. However what I do know is that I sure as hell will continue my journey on the road less traveled. That is the purpose of Lost Around the Block. I wanted to create a spot that folks that are trying to hit the reset button on their lives can find inspiration. A place where we could all find stories about those who are lost. A site that people from all walks of life could gather and say without hesitation or fear that they just don’t know.
I am no new age guru. I am not trying to convert anyone into one religion or another. I won’t sit here and talk about cosmic energies, or hidden truths or how if we just spend ten minutes doing this one thing, happiness will find you. I can’t even say with any absolute assurance that I have a single clue what I am doing here. But hopefully if I stick with this, and as more people find the site, maybe this will evolve into something more concrete. Perhaps we can serve to inspire each other on our little attempt at a course correction. We will see.
Thanks for tolerating this long rant. I plan on posting other stories about myself and others that I feel fit what I am trying to create here. I hope you check back often. It’s always more fun to be lost with good company. 🙂
Here’s hoping that we all are found.
Tom G III