...here's an honest truth, something which may be a surprise to some of my friends, those beer guzzling, football crazed, grunting-farting-friends whom I personally feel every man on the planet needs in order to, well, continue to feel like a man. I can soak up a good novel like a politician can rattle off lies to the public.
It would be best to check this number with my wife, but I'd be willing to guess that I've tackled upwards of forty best-sellers this year alone. Usually after work, late at night, long after everyone else had called it a day, and normally while waiting for some sign that I was actually starting to feel sleepy myself. Droopy eyelids, head nodding, those little hints that have been failing me lately. Could be a form of depression, I've been debating on that for quite some time without an answer.
So one night I'm reading a John Sandford novel, one of my favorites, and I come across a phrase that I haven't been able to let go...
"If you look in the mirror while shaving in the morning and ask yourself what you've become, would you like the answer?"
The thing is, you can lie to your parents, you can lie to your boss. If you're morals are askew, you can lie to your spouse. Some can even lie to their kids. But when you stare at that face in the mirror, what comes out, whether spoken or not, has no choice in the matter. And what you see looking back at you is what you've become. I guess the question is, was it worth it? Is it what you've always wanted?
Twenty years ago I smuggled a handful of cold beers out of my father's not-so-hidden stash, and met up with the best friend I'd ever had on the edge of a small pond one summer night to stare up at the stars and act like we were far older than our mid-teens. We'd pulled this stunt often during that summer. Not so much out of boredom, or even as a mischievous act. But more so because, while unspoken between us, we were running out of time. My parents had divorced, and ugly partaking, and I was moving away with my father. Changing schools. Changing everything. And while it's difficult to understand when you're seventeen and fearless, time had become precious to him and I.
And so on this one particular night, while lying back on the soft earth, listening to frogs across the shore and staring upward, the question was raised of our futures. I'm no longer sure by whom. My buddy since kindergarten felt quite positive he'd be heading to college, then on to a teaching career. He'd mentioned it before so I wasn't caught off guard.
As for me, well I wanted to follow the sun and travel south. And more than anything, I wanted to be a writer. A novelist. Not necessarily one who would need to hire a team of analysts in order to math out my finances, but a comfortable income would've hit the spot.
Twenty years ago.
And now I look in the mirror. I see a face looking back at me. A face deemed impossible of anything but the truth. And what do I see?
I have a son who's in the top of his class. He takes his school work seriously. He creates goals and strives for them. He yearns to succeed. And I tell him to march on where I have stumbled. And I think to myself that this world will be okay with people like him in charge. But he looks up to me in awe, and listens to my every word. And I wonder if I'm deserving of such a privilege.
I have a wife who's become my new best friend. She's had this lifelong goal of adopting a child in need. Most recently her focus has been on international adoption. Bringing a child home from Africa. Saving a life otherwise doomed. And I've agreed. Let's make a difference. Let's create change. And then I think of a select few in my family who are openly racist. I picture the grimace on their faces when they hear the news. And I wonder if anyone can still be saved. If anywhere in this world can still be considered safe.
I have a job I can't stand. Working with machinery I couldn't care less about, on a work schedule I find nearly intolerable. And I'm told I should be happy I even have a job. That I can pay my bills and keep that roof over my family's head. And I think to myself how we've only got one life on this planet. One shot at making a difference. And yet everyday I clock in, and I watch that press go up...I watch the press go down...I watch the days go by...
My best friend of twenty years prior did end up going to college. Then he dropped out a year later. He moved south, found a job tending bar, and since then we've lost touch. We always knew we'd run out of time...
And I wonder what he sees when he looks in the mirror.
I look in the mirror and this is what I see... If asked, I'm a dad. Hopefully one worthy of being looked up to. Of being remembered. If asked, I'm a husband. Not a great one. But one willing to listen, willing to give in, hopefully one worth remembering. And if asked, I'm a writer. Twenty years in the making...and counting.