Friday, December 30, 2016

Lessons From a One Year Old

I wish I could say that I have lived my life without regrets.  I wish I could say that I've always tried my hardest to make sure that when I got older I wouldn't be able to look back and say, "I wish I had done that differently."  I wish I could say I always paid close attention to mundane details of everyday life, and I wish I could say that I know for certain what the roses smell like.  Truth is, I can't say any of those things.

It's so easy as an adult to look back on one's childhood and assuredly comment on how easy things were.  While I am almost certain my childhood was generally happy and worry-free, it's unfair for the 31-year-old version of me to sell my 9-year-old self so short.  Sure, a 9-year-old's struggles are mostly laughably minor to an adult, but when you're the kid living it, there are truly life-and-death scenarios faced on a daily basis.  Now that I'm grown, I don't recall many of those everyday struggles I faced as a child.  But I do remember always hoping and wishing to be older, so I could do whatever I wanted, so I wouldn't have to worry about those things anymore.  So that life would be so much easier.  The grass is greener, and all that.

If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I honestly can't think of all the things I'd tell myself.  But, despite the cliche nature of it, I'd implore myself to live life in the moment.  I'd plead with me to realize that life and time are so precious.  I'd exhort myself to stop wishing away the time.  All those amazing things we so earnestly look forward to almost invariably fail to meet expectations, and the ones that do are always worth the wait.

"Enjoy the wait!" I'd scream at the top of my lungs.  Don't kid yourself into thinking that when you get to "that point" (whatever "that point" may be) you'll slow down and appreciate things more, I'd tell me.  You won't.  You'll be there, realize it wasn't what you hoped it'd be, and you'll go right back to wishing you were some other place or some other time.  I'd preach to myself to enjoy the journey.  I'd beseech myself to soak up every minute detail of every day.  All the sorrow.  All the joy.  All the heartbreak.  All the laughter.  All the love.  All the misery.  All the boredom.  All the loneliness.  All the thrills.  All.  Of.  It.

If I were able to tell the kid me all those things, maybe I wouldn't be sitting here wondering where the hell the last year went.  Maybe I would have listened to me.  Maybe I would have recognized all that stuff long ago, so by the time I was here, with my baby girl turning one, I'd be far more experienced at paying attention to every single second of every single day.  Maybe it wouldn't have taken her being born for me to realize just how fleeting time is.

If Adrienne and I had a nickle for every time we've said, "Just look at her," during the last year, we'd be able to retire today and put her through college two or three times.  Admittedly, I failed to see the significance of everyday occurrences before Charlotte Claire was born.  I always felt like I had all the time in the world.  I took a lot of things for granted.  Without even trying, without even knowing she was doing it, Charlotte taught me that.  She taught me to stop.  She taught me to wrap my memory around every second of every day.  Every smell, every giggle, every belly-laugh, every stumbling step and fall, every squeal of joy, every cry, every indecipherable word, every smile, every happy hand clap, every 2:00 AM party, every wave bye-bye, every horsey ride and patty-cake, every hot dog dance and look in the mirror...All of it.  If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I'd already know to pay attention to where all the time goes.  Since I can't, it took Charlotte Claire to make me understand.

A year used to feel like a long time.  It doesn't anymore.  The past year has been a conundrum for me.  It's gone by in what seems like the blink of an eye, but has also felt like an entire lifetime in itself.  I obviously can remember my life before Charlotte came along, but I feel totally disconnected from it.  Instead of seeing memories, I feel like I'm watching a movie of my life, starring someone that looks like me.  It's all familiar and resembles the true story, but something is missing...Something's just not quite right.

If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I'd tell me to live life in the moment.  So that when Charlotte Claire came along, I'd be far better at paying attention and filing away the memories.  If I were able to talk to the younger me, maybe my biggest fear as I write this wouldn't be forgetting something that happened yesterday, or today, or last week...Some little thing that is the best thing in the world right now.  Maybe I'd be so versed in the Art of Now, I wouldn't have so many forgotten memories.  Maybe I wouldn't have so many regrets. 

Maybe I wouldn't have learned so much this year.

Happy Birthday, Charlotte Claire.  I love you more than I'll ever be able to tell you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Is There a Troubleshooting Guide for This?

Over the last few weeks, I've been asked when this blog post was coming.  One would think that an enormous life event like having a child would warrant any number of posts, and with relative ease.  However, to my own surprise, that hasn't necessarily been the case.  Choosing what to write has actually been rather difficult, and finding the time has been even harder.  So, I apologize for the delay.

Since the day I found out Adrienne was pregnant and we began sharing the news with our friends and family, people have been quick to offer advice.  We've been given tips on how we should feed the baby, when she needs to sleep and for how long, what doctor to visit, what brand of diapers to buy...And almost invariably, someone at some point would jokingly ask, "So, are you ready?" Then they'd follow that with a belly laugh, as if they were the only one that really got it.

I'd usually offer a wry grin, and a response along the lines of, "As ready as I'll ever be."

"May as well be, right?  No going back now!" They'd say, with another fit of hysterical laughter.

The truth is, those conversations were never as enjoyable for me as they undoubtedly were for the person I was talking to.  It wasn't the fact they were giving me unsolicited advice or offering up some totally predictable one-liner.  Much of the advice was appreciated (what the hell did I know about having a baby?), and unfunny comments became their own running joke.  It wasn't that.

What actually bothered me was the fact that every single time I got asked that question, I had to lie.  Because, truth be told, I was never ready.  I was scared to death.  In the days and months leading up to Charlotte's birth, I'd experience virtually every emotion one can encounter on an almost daily basis: unfathomable joy at the thought of being a father.  Crippling despair.  Sickening worry.  Back to happy.  A cold-sweat sort of anxiety.  Simple ease.  Gut-wrenching nervousness.  The roller coaster that I experienced was unbelievable, and would almost always arise at the most random of times.  And my mindset would return to normal just as quickly.

I thought about what Charlotte would look like.  I thought about what kind of personality she would have.  I imagined falling asleep on the couch, while she napped on my chest.  I imagined how I would feel the first moment I laid eyes on her.  And as wild and unrealistic as our imaginations can often be, nothing I imagined even remotely compared to what it was actually like.

I would guess for the average person, there are probably only 4 or 5 moments one can recognize as life-altering.  Like, as the event is occurring, you realize its significance without the benefit of hindsight.  One of those, my life will never be the same after this moment kind of things.  The moment I saw Charlotte is one of those.  I'm sure I'll make countless missteps and never really figure things out.  But, the moment I first laid eyes on Charlotte, was the moment I was finally ready.

The last six weeks have been an unbelievable whirlwind.  Watching her change and grow everyday has gone so far beyond any of my expectations that finding words to describe it is almost an impossible task.  I always expected to celebrate the big milestones, but I've come to cherish the subtle nuances of her that come on a daily basis.

I love how she clenches her fists up under her chin as she eats.  Sometimes she stretches her neck out as far as it will reach, tilts her head back and strains her eyes toward the ceiling.  We refer to it as "turtle face," because, when she does that, she resembles Cecil Turtle from those old Looney Tunes cartoons.  I love listening to little involuntary grunts and sighs she makes while she's sleeping.  In the last couple of weeks, she's become far more aware of her surroundings, and has started reacting to our voices.  She giggles softly from time to time, and it's just the best thing ever.  I love when she's bright-eyed and stares holes through me, or when she moves her mouth along with mine, attempting to mimic my movements in her own way.

I love listening to Adrienne talk to her when she's not really aware I'm listening.  I love watching the faces they make at one another the way only a mother and her newborn daughter can.  I love looking into her eyes, desperately trying to figure out what she's thinking.  Or wondering if she's thinking anything at all.  I wonder what it must be like to genuinely discover something new every single day.  Like a light bulb.  Or your own reflection.  Or how it feels to move your arms.  The feeling of Dad's beard brushing your cheek.  I wonder what it would be like to never take anything for granted.  Not because you're extraordinarily conscientious, but because you're incapable of it.  I am constantly in awe of that innocence.

All that being said, I'd be a liar if I said everything was wonderful and perfect.  It isn't.  Adrienne and I are discovering a level of pure physical exhaustion I'm not sure I knew existed.  The second we begin to fall into any semblance of routine (finally!), Charlotte decides she is bored with the status quo.  I've forgotten what it felt like to relax for longer than five minutes.  Even when Charlotte naps, Adrienne and I spend so much energy trying not to wake her that it makes it impossible to relax ourselves.  I've been peed on.  I've been puked on.  I've discovered smells that have absolutely no business coming from such a small human being.  And I know I've not even begun to scratch the surface of what's to come.  It is absolutely terrifying.

And, yet, I've never loved more, smiled more, laughed more, and anticipated more than I have the last six weeks.  Everyone told me I had no idea what being a parent would be like until I experienced it for myself, and they're most certainly right.  Truth be told, I still don't really know what it will be like.  I have no idea what I'm doing, and I have no idea how in the world I'm going to succeed at this.  But, for some reason, I'm ready.

May as well be, right?




Monday, November 23, 2015

Now That's One Tough Act to Follow

Thanksgiving week has always been one of my favorite times of year.  When I was in school or teaching, obviously the 5-day weekend was always nice.  I'm a huge college basketball fan, and "Feast Week," as it has been coined, has always provided a great jump start to the upcoming season.  There are great movies on TV all weekend long, and of course the chance to spend time with family while enjoying delicious food.  It's a great week all the way around.

My earliest memory of Thanksgiving came on November 23, 1989.  It was one of the rare occasions my sister Lensey's birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day.  I remember getting up to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, like we did every year, and like I still do to this day.  I remember watching Lensey open her birthday gifts before we left to spend the day with the rest of our family.  She got some yellow toy van (I've spent the last half hour trying to locate a picture of it online, but can't remember what line of toys it belonged to) and, because I was still young enough to warrant gifts on my sister's birthday, I got a couple of Police Academy action figures.  I don't remember anything else about that particular Thanksgiving, but those minute details have stuck with me every since.

Although I know I should do it all the time, this time of year always leaves me reflecting upon things that I'm thankful for.  I'm thankful for my parents; I'm thankful for their unending support and guidance throughout my life.  I'm thankful for my beautiful wife, and the sure-to-be beautiful daughter she's preparing to bring into this world.  I'm thankful for my job and my health and my dogs.  I'm thankful for lots of things...Even if I don't always think about the fact I'm thankful for them.  It just sort of goes without saying. 

But, today, that isn't the case.  Today, it isn't going without saying.  Today, I'm thankful for one very special thing:

My sister.

Despite the countless hours we spent arguing and destroying each other's toys (I guess a Raphael in four pieces is a fair trade for a headless Ken doll), Lensey was my first friend.  When I was a baby, she spent nearly every waking moment by my side, providing me with a never-ending source of entertainment.  As I grew older, she would organize games of "house" or "school" and let me join in the fun, where I was almost always the kid she bossed into chores or homework.

She helped foster a deep love for great music, like New Kids on the Block.  I remember a TV special she taped where each member got to play out a dream sequence (I think Danny got to play one-on-one against Michael Jordan), and I got to watch it 15 million times from 1989-1991.  She would let me sit in her room and watch her play Super Mario Brothers or Tetris, and she even let me listen to her read books before I was able to.  You see, I didn't mind being bossed around for those first few years...I just liked being able to tag along.

Even as we grew up and butted heads from time to time, I continued to learn new things from her on an almost daily basis.  I learned when dealing with Mom and Dad, sometimes it's best to just shut your mouth (although that one was more in theory than practice, for me).  I learned what a hard-working, well-rounded individual did on a daily basis.  I saw what true, unadulterated kindness looked and sounded like.  I felt the influence of one of the greatest role models anyone could ever hope to have.

Lensey is one of the most genuinely nice people I've ever met in my entire life.  I've never seen her get into a knock-down, drag-out fight with anyone except me, and only because I know exactly how to push her buttons.  As many softball games as I saw her play, I never once witnessed her talk even a little bit of trash.  I could count on one hand the number of times I've heard her curse (three).  But I couldn't even begin to count the number of times I saw her be kind to someone else.  I couldn't begin to count the number of times I heard her say something complimentary to another person.  I couldn't begin to count the number of times I saw her laugh in the face of obstacles.  In a world that seems to pride itself on focusing on the negative characteristics of nearly everyone, it is a rarity to find someone that makes that practically impossible.  But, my sister does.

I've watched my sister succeed at virtually everything she's ever undertaken in her life.  She was voted class favorite in 1st grade.  She was a cheerleader, all-star softball player, varsity track letter-winner, field commander in the Marching Marshal band, and I'm not sure she ever spent a single day of her life grounded.  She had countless friends, sprinkled in from every conceivable walk of life.  She was a salutatorian in a graduating class of almost 300.  She won a partial scholarship at Murray State as a member of the rowing team.  She graduated with a degree in nursing in barely four years.  She's been incredibly successful in her professional career, given birth to two beautiful children, molded a house into a lovely home, and done it all with more grace and ease than most people can muster for just about anything.  Needless to say, she made life very difficult for a younger sibling trying desperately to follow her giant footsteps.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my wonderful sister for helping mold me into the man I am today.  And I can't wait to introduce her to my daughter, so she can have the same amazing influence that I did.  Happy birthday, Lensey!  I love you!




Sunday, September 27, 2015

Don't Worry 'Bout It, Brah

I have to be honest...The first time I met Derek Reul, I couldn't stand the guy. 

He was loud and obnoxious and seemed to be the total opposite of myself in every conceivable way.  Or at least that's how it felt after that first three or four minute interaction.

But, as time passed, I came to be reintroduced to him on several different occasions, and my disdain slowly (and I stress slowly) began to melt down to slight dislike, to apathy, to tolerance.  And before I knew it, and without even knowing how it took place, I guess you could say I liked Derek Reul.

Hell...Derek Reul was my friend.

Derek was one of a kind.  I know that's the sort of thing you hear said about people all the time, and in most cases it holds no meaning.  It's just something nice people say about other people because they're expected to say it under these types of circumstances.  But that's simply not the case with Derek Reul.  He was one. Of. A. Kind.

Derek was such a unique individual that describing him to someone that didn't know him is practically impossible.  Derek's style was stereotypical of the average fraternity bro, but somehow he pieced it together in a way that made it totally Derek Reul.  He would wear the usual khaki shorts and polo to the golf course like everybody else, but play his 18 holes in penny loafers with no socks.  And despite an onslaught of laughter and ridicule from us, he'd own it.  The way only Derek Reul could.

Therein lies some of Derek's charm.  Almost without fail, any time a group of us got together, sooner or later, we'd all get a huge laugh at Derek's expense.  But he exuded a confidence that was cartoonish in its fervency: totally unrealistic, and yet, a characteristic that made me consistently envious of him.  No matter how many times he ended up as the butt of a joke, he always laughed and said, "Don't worry about it, brah," before sauntering away, as if he were the only person in the room that really "got it."

To demonstrate that point, on one occasion, me, Aaron Stanley, Derek Stitt, Matt Sexton, Jimmy Mullaney, and Derek were all sitting around in Stitt and Sexton's apartment watching the Masters on television.  I made some critical remark directed towards Tiger Woods or some other golfer, and Reul immediately called me out on it.

"Come on, Edwards!  Since you're better than Tiger I guess you can give him tips on how to play golf," he said, at his customary volume, which was almost always way too high for the circumstances.
"I never said I was better than Tiger Woods, Derek...But I'm sure better than you," I snapped back.
"Whatever, dude.  I could beat you, no problem," he said.  I'm not sure he actually believed it, but that's that Derek Reul confidence.
"Ok," I said.  "Let's do it, then.  I'll even give you a five stroke lead, just name the time and place.  Hell..I'll give you a 10-stroke lead, and I'll STILL beat you," I said defiantly.

And the wager was set.  I don't remember what stakes we actually put on the round, if any.  And anyone that ever saw Derek play golf knows that he was arguably the worst golfer that had ever swung a club.  But that didn't keep him from trying, anyway.

We went out to Connemara in Lexington a few weeks later, and as we made the turn to the 10th tee, Derek's 10-stroke lead had dissipated into a 12-stroke deficit.  I don't think we even finished the round.

It's that kind of story that encapsulates Derek Reul in my memory.  And one of many that still gets told and retold everytime me and any of those guys get together.  In fact, we spend an inordinate amount of time telling Derek Reul stories, even if he isn't with us.  And I think that may be the kind of legacy any one of us would want to have.

Derek Reul was loud.  He was obnoxious.  He was uncouth, and borderline inappropriate on occasion.  He could disappear for hours at a time, and when asked where he was, could tell a whopper of a lie, simply for the fun of getting a reaction out of us.  But he could do it with so much enthusiasm and detail that it left you thinking, maybe he is telling the truth, even though every fiber of your being told you there was no way.

But, despite his faults, Derek Reul was one of the most loyal people I have ever met in my entire life.  If you needed him for anything, and I do mean anything, he'd drop whatever he was doing and be there with bells on.  You always knew where he stood, and you never doubted for a second that he had your back.

He loved his friends.  He loved his family.  He loved his God and country.  He loved Ronald Reagan, Carl Weathers, and the Green Bay Packers.  He loved crappy 80s pop music, and singing karaoke while doing his patented "air keytar" dance move.  He loved life, and you knew it simply by watching him live it.

I wish I could say I kept in touch with him up until the end, but I can't.  Sometimes life tends to get in the way, and it's been almost five years since I last saw Derek.  We spoke on the phone or texted occasionally, and those conversations almost always revolved around some funny memory from our days in Lexington.  And, to some degree, I think I prefer it that way.

I wish I had gotten the opportunity to say goodbye, but I know life doesn't always work out the way we want it to.  And I also know Derek wouldn't want me, or anyone else, to sit around sadly wondering what might have been.  That's just not his style.

Derek would want us to laugh.  He'd want us to keep telling those same funny stories over and over.  He'd want us to remember the good times we had with him.  He'd want us to go to a karaoke bar, toast to 'Merica, take a shot of peppermint schnapps, and sing "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" at the top of our lungs.  And he'd want us to smile.  And that's exactly how I'll remember Derek Reul.

Rest in peace, brother.  You'll be missed more than you know.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Dog Girl of Dickey Hall

"Do not be afraid.  Our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift."  -Dante's Inferno

The idea of fate, that the unforeseen meanderings of our lives are predetermined from the womb, is not something that appeals to my nature.  For some folks, I guess, it is a comforting thought to know that every twist and turn we come across has an underlying purpose; we are meant to be wherever we happen to end up simply because that's the plan laid out for us.  No matter the route we take, where we end up is where we're supposed to be.

I would hate to live my life under that sort of constraint.  I realize there are some things in life that are simply beyond our influence; things sometimes just happen.  But I'd like to think I have far more control than unaffectedly floating on the breeze, going where life supposes I'll go.  I'd like to think the choices I've made along the way, and the choices I'll make as I move forward, will play a role in where I ultimately go in life.  And even so...Sometimes random coincidences seem almost too good to find our paths by nothing more than dumb luck.

That sort of thing happened to me in the fall of 2005 when I was a junior at the University of Kentucky.  I had finally declared my major, secondary education, and found myself under the direction of Liza Turner, who would be my academic adviser for the next year and a half.

The first time I met Liza, we went through the cursory introductions.  We examined the university course manual, my transcript, and my schedule to make sure I was taking all of the required courses to complete my degree on time.  Over the next couple of semesters, I'd drop by her office from time to time to ask about dropping a course and replacing it with something else, the MIC application process and where I stood with that, or to just simply see Lucy, whom Liza stealthily (and against the wishes of most of her building-mates) brought to keep her company in the closet she called an office.  It was the sort of intermittent working relationship where I wouldn't have been surprised in the least to know she didn't remember my name.

In the spring of 2008, Liza was the instructor for the last course in which I enrolled at UK.  To be sure, I had one foot out the door, so my attention span was nil.  I talked constantly.  I rarely laid eyes on our weekly readings, half-assed any written assignments...As an example, I turned in an essay over a book we were supposed to read, and only cited material from two chapters.  Liza noticed, too.  But, by that point I just wanted school to end.

I wouldn't have been shocked if I were one of Liza's least favorite students, so when she basically volunteered her younger sister to go on a blind date with me nearly 3 years later, I really couldn't believe it.

Since then, as my relationship with Adrienne has grown, I quickly realized I had become a part of a great family.  And as great and strong as the Turner girls have always been, Liza may just be the capstone keeping them all from crumbling.

There are few people on this earth as selfless and thoughtful as Liza Turner.  Each Christmas Eve, she reads an original poem before we sit down at the table to eat, conjuring up funny stories from the year that was, providing each of us with a memento to carry with us forever.  At Christmas or on birthdays, I often look forward to the gift Liza gets more than any other.  She is incredibly creative and able to put ideas to action, but even more so, she personalizes gifts better than anyone I've ever seen.  My favorites?  The Avett Brothers concert map coasters adorning our coffee table, and the picture chair sitting in corner of our living room, both handmade of course.

Liza truly, deeply, cares about her family farm and community, and it shows.  Drive by Turner Farm at any hour of the day, at any time of year, and you'll undoubtedly see her car parked out front, muddy footprints lining the driveway to and from the barn.  You'll login to Facebook and see countless posts outlining programs she's single-handedly planned and executed at the Cumberland County Public Library: programs to promote literacy or a love of local history; arts and crafts workshops, family movie nights.  Liza loves Cumberland County, and she goes out of her way to nurture that love within the hearts of other Cumberland Countians.

She would be the first to admit she was born in the wrong decade.  She's a throwback.  She's tough.  She's independent.  She'll wake up at 3:30 AM without an alarm, make coffee, and read because she doesn't have cable.  She'll make zucchini bread or eggplant parmesan and leave it on the counter for you to enjoy for dinner.  When you call to say "thank you," she'll answer on her regular cell phone.  And she wouldn't have it any other way.

If fate exists, one of the most important twists of fate in my life was walking into Liza's office in Dickey Hall that day in 2005.  Not only did it bring me the love of my life, and the daughter we have on the way, but it also set me on a crash course to being part of a beautiful family, and getting to know one of the coolest, funniest, kindest, most selfless people I've had the privilege of meeting.  I'm not sure it was fate...But it certainly was a gift.

Happy Birthday, Liza!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

There Were Four of Us...But We Never Had a Fancy Name

Maybe it's due to the enormity of the time in my life, but the last night I spent at home before moving to UK in August of 2003 is one of the more vivid and lasting memories I have.  It was a bookend event, so to speak...The closing of a chapter in my life.  Perhaps that's why it is so thoroughly engrained in my memory.

I can remember almost every minute detail of the entire night.  Me, DJ, Matt Darnell, and Tyler Dunigan all rode around in Tyler's Oldsmobile Alero, the same way we had on countless occasions the previous two or three years.  We walked around the mall in Paducah, we got milkshakes at Steak 'n Shake, we stole an "Edwards Drive" road sign from some random neighborhood in Reidland for me to hang in my dorm room (I kept it until Adrienne and I moved into our apartment in Mount Sterling), and the night ended in the parking lot of Movie Hut in Draffenville.  To an outside observer, it would have been a pretty dull way of saying goodbye.  But not to us.  Not to me.

I've often heard that writers write what they know, whether it's fiction or nonfiction.  I obviously fall into that category, because 99 percent of my writing on this blog consists of stories from my past.  And I've noticed, in those stories, I tend to focus on certain "periods" of my life.  I either speak about my childhood, college, or my most recent experiences.  I seem to completely neglect high school.  Why?  I don't know.

My formidable high school years weren't perfect, to be sure, but they weren't bad either.  I had a fairly typical experience for a high school kid...I went to school, I played sports, I worked during the summer, I had a few roller-coaster relationships, and my worldview was astonishingly self-centered.  I had a lot of fun during those years, and I have a lot of great memories with my friends.  But, for whatever reason, I rarely talk about them.  And when I do, it seems to be in passing, like a minor addendum to something bigger and more important.  I honestly don't know if I've done it intentionally, or if it occurs subconsciously.  When I was in high school (DJ and I talked of this often), I was constantly biding my time until it was over.  My sights were wholly set on college...On getting out of that town, going somewhere, anywhere...Not because I hated it, but because I yearned to experience something else.  Perhaps my mind is still doing that to a degree...Focusing most of my memory on the years just after high school.

For whatever reason, today that changed.  My mom sent me a photo of an old "clubhouse" DJ and I had in the woods behind my parents' house and I began to reminisce on the days when we used to sit out there in it.  That was long before high school, but the thought led to something else, and then something else, and then, without really knowing how I got there, I was riding shotgun in Tyler's Alero on some random Saturday night.

The four of us never really got into TOO much trouble, but to say we didn't find any would be a total lie.  And the four of us coming together was almost by happenstance to begin with.

I first met Tyler in a 21st Century Technology class our freshman year.  For whatever reason, Tyler went out of his way to constantly badger me and poke fun at me...Everyday.  Without fail.  After a few weeks of this nonsense, I finally lost it on him one day.

"Dude...Since day one, you have done nothing but make fun of me all the time.  I've never done anything to you, and I don't know what your problem is.  Why do you keep doing it?" I said, totally frustrated and at my whit's end.

Tyler sort of stammered, unsure of how to respond, "I...Uh...I don't know.  I just do, I guess," he said. 

"Well, stop!  It isn't funny, anymore," I said.  We've been friends ever since.

Matt and I met in French class my sophomore year.  He was a freshman, and we just happened to be seated next to one another in the back row.  We spent most of our time quoting jokes from Sinbad's standup, or organizing ridiculous shenanigans to prevent our teacher, Madame Caldwell, from staying on task.  We became friends almost immediately.

Over time, the four of us began to hang out together.  Most nights, we'd drive around Paducah wasting time and gas.  We'd usually go to the mall, walk around three or four times, wait for Matt to get off work from his job at Aeropostale, then go bowling or to Steak 'n Shake.  Sure, we changed it up from time to time, but that was a fairly typical night.  Nothing crazy.  Nothing over the top.  Just average.  Simple.

That's why that night in 2003 meant so much to me, and why it sticks with me to this day.  We made a point to hit all our old haunts...The mall, Steak n' Shake, the loop in Paducah, the "Monkey House" in Sharpe, and of course, Movie Hut.  DJ worked there for a couple of years, and when there was nothing else to do, we'd just go there and hang out at the counter while he "worked."  It was the perfect place to end the night, and the night was the perfect microcosm of the four of us.  Us in a nutshell.

I haven't thought about that night in a long, long time, but today it came flooding back like it had happened yesterday.  I left for Lexington the next morning, and things were never quite the same.  We still hung out from time to time...We spent holidays and school breaks in much the same way, but it was always different.  We slowly grew apart.  Matt joined the Navy, then moved to Portland and rarely makes it back to Kentucky.  Tyler got married in 2006 and grew up long before DJ and I were ready to do that.  I was in Lexington, DJ was in Murray...Life happened.

I'm not sure why my memory doesn't float back to those nights more often...I loved them, and can't help but laugh when they come to mind.  It'd be awesome if all four of us made it back to Paducah for one night, and got our hands on an '02 Alero.  I bet we could burn that town to the ground.

But we'd probably just walk around the mall and end up at Steak n' Shake at the end of the night.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

30 for 30: Let's Stop and Think About This

Birthdays are strange.  When we're young, birthdays are some extravagant celebration, as if growing a year older is the most amazing thing in the world.  And, when you're a child, to a degree, it is.  Each year brings new experiences and responsibilities, but in the most exciting way possible.  Things go on in that way for a while.  Then, at some point (for me it was around 23), birthdays sort of lose their luster.  They just become another day, highlighting another year gone...An annual reminder that our days are fleeting.  When you're young, you only want to be older so you can do all the things you're not allowed to do.  When you're old, you only want to be younger so you can do all the things you're no longer able to.  And, unfortunately, time doesn't run in reverse.

I never assumed turning 30 would have that much of an impact on me.  I thought I had come to terms with the thought of it long before I was at this point.  Age is just a silly number, anyhow.  But 30 is different.  It's a milestone.  The mark of another decade of life.  It's one of those things that, when you're young and the thought crosses your mind, always seems far off.  The way we make plans for things we have absolutely no intention of ever doing.  One of these days...Unobtainable, and simultaneously inevitable. 

I don't feel 30, however one is supposed to feel.  I also don't feel 20.  Or 25.  If I could go back to the 20-year-old me and ask him to describe how he envisioned his life to be at 30, he probably would have looked up at the ceiling, pretending to search the recesses of his mind for the proper response, shrugged his shoulders, and offered me a beer.  I never thought (and still don't) of the future in concrete terms.  It was always fluid and ever-changing.  A moving target.  Like driving toward a rainbow.

I guess, to me, turning 30 is just heavy.  The difference between 29 and 23 doesn't sound like much.  But the difference between 30 and 23?  Despite the fact I knew it long ago, and despite the fact I hope I actualized it long ago, turning 30 means I'm not a kid anymore.  By no means old, but not that young either.

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly how I feel.  I'm neither happy, nor sad.  I'm a bit overwhelmed, but not to the point of losing sleep.  I guess the best way to describe it is bewildered.  I simply can't believe how quickly time has passed.  But, I have to admit, my first 30 years have been pretty fantastic.

I've found myself to be extremely reflective over the last few days leading up to the big day, but in a very strange, jumbled way.  I've thought about funny stories from my childhood.  Former teachers I had growing up.  Lessons I've learned.  Mistakes I've made.  Times when I've been exploding with joy, crawling with despair, or embarrassed as hell.  I thought about a few life-altering moments, and a few meaningless afternoons watching rerunsIt's truly run the gamut.  So...Instead of a list of 30 lessons learned, or 30 additions to a bucket list, here's my list of 30 random reflections/thoughts/memories on my 30th birthday.

1. As many stupid things as I've done, and as many hours as I've spent playing contact sports, I'm lucky to have gone almost 30 years without any major injuries, and very few minor ones.  And very unlucky to tear the longest tendon in the body playing pickup basketball with several guys twice my age.

2. When my college buddies and I get together and tell stories, it is almost startling how many of them revolve around us simply hanging out on someone's front porch.  And beer.  Lots of beer.

3. When I decided to get my first tattoo in 2005, my parents told me I'd regret it.  I don't really regret getting the tattoo...I just wish I had gotten something different.

4. Accelerated Reader was a big deal when I was in middle school.  One day in 6th grade, we had a substitute teacher.  Fifteen of us decided it'd be a good idea to take the same test on the same book.  We got caught.

5. The big snow last week reminded me of 1994.  Snow began falling around 1:00 on a Friday afternoon, school was released early, and the snow didn't stop until Sunday.  We were out of school for two full weeks.  Our neighborhood was basically locked down.  That Saturday night, my sister, DJ, our friend Katie, and I all hung out at DJ's house watching movies and playing board games while our parents played cards across the street at Katie's house.

6. If you ever get the chance to go on a blind date, go.  Don't even consider staying at home because you've been on blind dates before and they, like, always suck because the other person is always a total bore, or annoying, or chews too loudly, or something.  It doesn't matter how many bad blind dates you've been on...If you get offered the chance for another one, take it.  Trust me.

7. The art of the lengthy, hand-written love letter needs to be revived.

8. I have loved every dog I've ever owned, but one of the most vivid memories I have in regards to them occurred one crisp fall afternoon when I was about 11 or 12.  I had been playing basketball on the back patio and decided to lie down in the yard for a while.  Our old dog, Queenie, came over and lay down behind me and let me rest my head on her belly for about an hour.  We lay there listening to the dwindling remnants of leaves blowing in the breeze, and I talked to her like she was my best friend.  Indeed, she was.

9. I think cell phones are a fabulous invention.  Coupled with lightning-fast mobile networks, and having an entire world of information available virtually anywhere and anytime is something I never would have imagined when I was a kid.  But, I also miss not being able to imagine that kind of connectivity and wish I was disciplined enough to spend far more time off the grid living life.

10. Have there always been so many inherently dumb people in the world as there are today?  I don't mean ignorant...That I can understand.  But just dumb people, that have no excuse.  I really don't know how some folks get from one day to the next.

11. I wish I traveled more.  Adrienne and I take short, weekend getaway trips often.  But, many times, we have the opportunity to do so and we just don't, for whatever reason.  We don't want the hassle of having to rush around on Sunday evening preparing for the work week.  We need to save the money.  We always have an excuse.  I sometimes wish we'd just shoot, then apologize later.

12. I wish I went fishing more often.  When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was go fishing with Dad.  We didn't go that often...A few times a year, usually.  I wish we had done more of that.  Or maybe I don't.  The limited number of those trips made them more exciting, and now...I can almost remember one specific thing from each of them.  Even when the fish weren't biting.

13. Speaking of remembering...Isn't it strange how seemingly minute details in our lives are burned into our memories like photographs?  I can look back on random memories from years ago and see certain scenes play out in my mind like a movie...As vividly as if I were watching it take place at this very moment.  Then others are a total blank...No recollection whatsoever.  Like one of those fishing trips with my Dad...I can remember sitting in a booth at The Pelican Restaurant at around 5:15 in the morning, watching the steam off his coffee make its way around his nostrils as he raised his cup to his lips, a brief pause as he went over the days itinerary.  The morning weather report was rambling on in the background.  I had pancakes.  I don't remember a damn thing about the actual fishing that day.

14. To me, the most important and useful characteristic anyone can possess is a sense of humor.

15. People often make fun of my wife for not being a good cook (me included, at times).  But I don't mind it.  I enjoy cooking, especially for her.  Sometimes my recipes are a bit dull and repetitive, but what can she say?  It's not like she can do much complaining.

16. Sometimes I miss setting the table for dinner.  Adrienne and I always eat in the living room (much to her chagrin when the time comes to clean my side of the couch), but when I was a kid, we almost never ate dinner anywhere but at the table, and my mom always ensured the table was properly set with place mats, napkins, and silverware for each chair.  If I heard the words, "Set the table and fix the ice" once, I heard them a million times.  I had my own special place mat that had the letters of the alphabet, each as a different character.  I miss that thing.

17. Earlier I talked about cell phones and how I miss not having them, sometimes...One July Saturday night in 2002, we were at Hillman's Ferry like we always were in the summer.  A major summer storm blew in that night, knocking the power out over the entire campground.  All the kids our age gathered at the shelter building and hung out talking and telling stories for hours.  No lights.  No cell phones.  Just the sound of rain pelting the fiberglass roofing panels being drowned out by a couple dozen voices and laughter.  I think it's safe to say none of us got bored.

18. Aside from my wedding day, if I could travel back in time to any point in my life, it'd be the summers from 2000-2003.

19. This winter has been one of the worst ones I can remember.  It never really got that cold during the Christmas season, and with daylight savings time a little over a week away, there's a foot of snow on the ground.  Maybe it'll be spring by June.

20. I can only recall a couple teachers from my childhood that I didn't care for.  Most of them were incredible educators and even better people that taught me far more than lessons from a textbook.  But, my favorite elementary school teacher was Mrs. Patty Shelton, my 4th grade teacher.  She made sure we were always reading, and she was instrumental in starting me down a path toward writing.  You wouldn't be reading this right now if it weren't for her (among many others).  She encouraged me to write, and I'm forever thankful for that.

21. Every time I walk into the rehabilitation center where I conduct my physical therapy, the smell of chlorine from the pool wafts into my nose.  The smell isn't unique (every indoor pool smells the same), but I always think about the hotel we stayed at in Evansville when I played on all-star baseball teams.  It had a huge skylight window, rooms had indoor balconies, and the entire building smelled like chlorine.  I'll never forget that.

22. I wish I was still in a band and I wish I still played men's league softball.

23. One of the most exhausting weeks of my life is also one of the most enjoyable.  When I was an assistant coach on the West Jessamine High School Baseball team, we went to Cocoa Beach, Florida for spring break.  Along with another assistant coach, Chris French, I had to be up before 6:00 AM everyday, and typically didn't make it to bed until after midnight.  It was wall to wall baseball from sunup to sundown for 7 straight days.  And it was awesome.

24. Is it just human nature that we always assume things we liked in our youth was so much better than everything available today?  Or is there actual truth to it?  I know for a fact popular music today is total garbage, but so was a lot of the music I used to like.  I still liked it.  Hell, I still like some of it now.  I also like the word, "garbage."  Adrienne points that out a lot.  But I hate the band, Garbage.

25. When DJ and I were kids, we played "guys" (a short-hand way of saying we were playing with a wide variety of action figures) hundreds of times, and spanning several years.  What's funny, is that the storylines we came up with rarely changed and were, in some ways, continuous.  I don't know how the stories ended.  I guess we just stopped playing one day.  And on that day, did we know we'd never play guys again?

26. I sometimes wonder why I don't keep up with my high school friends more.  Almost every friend I keep in regular contact with was made in college.  Back then, I knew my friends and I would never lose touch.  But we did all the same.

27. Somehow, my mother keeps finding sun visors.  I didn't know they still made them, but she ALWAYS has one.  Without fail.

28. I know it's impossible to live without any regrets at all...No one intends on having regrets, they just sort of happen over time.  But, when I look back on my first 30 years, I can honestly say I have few of them.  The biggest one is just wishing I had been/was more active.  I feel like I waste too much time just wasting time.  But, I also fill that "wasted time" with wonderful memories, so it isn't really a waste at all.

29. Do you ever wonder where your first car is now?  Is it still intact, or has it been parted out, recycled, and turned into something totally different?  Is it sitting, rusting out and rotting in some junkyard or vacant lot?

30. I have a beautiful, loving wife, two awesome dogs, a wonderful family, a house and a piece of land...I guess there are worse things in the world.  I don't know what things will look like 30 years from now, but I'm going to certainly enjoy the ride.

Thanks for reading.  To the next 30...