Dearest EXPLORE reader,
I remember when my very first girlfriend dumped me. I was in the 10th grade at Boerne High School. It was after a football game in 1992. It was also raining. And I had a POISON cassette playing in my tape player. I also was wearing a leather jacket and reeked of Drakkar Noir cologne. I was wearing Guess jeans, and may or may not have been drinking a Mr. Pibb. I had on a bright green Boston Celtics hat. I have no idea why. All of those details are burned into my memory, and I smile at the details I can recall.
I had other girlfriends before her, but Molly was my first REAL girlfriend and, boy, my teenager emotions were strong and I’m fairly certain that I thought that the Sun itself revolved around Molly. Then she dumped me and everything came crashing down around me.
I don’t really remember how she might have dumped me (as in, what she said), but I just remember that it was very sudden and I remember that it was in the high school parking lot. I also remember driving home the 2 miles to my house with my jaw agape and completely dumbfounded for the next few minutes. I stumbled inside, threw my baseball cap down, and I may or may not have bawled my eyes out for hours. It was simply crushing to me and I just could not imagine my life carrying on a moment longer without Molly in my life. Nothing would be the same, I would forever be miserable, and I would never find true love again. Basically, just kill me now, because my life is over at this point. My heart was shattered, I would never overcome this enormous injustice and heartache, and I was terrified at what life was going to look like moving forward.
Then I met another girl. And another one. And some more. I don’t say this to brag or imply I was some Casanova…I was just a kid that was growing up and moving on.
I think back on that night I got dumped with such warm memories and recollections and can slap my knee and laugh about that moment and about how I can remember the evening with such detail, but I can tell you that I certainly wasn’t laughing when it happened.
In another season in my life, I went completely flat broke in 2006. I was recently divorced and had two kids that were 3 years and 6 months old at the time. I had no job. I shared (and have shared ever since) a pure 50/50 custody arrangement, and while that is an amazing accomplishment (for both my ex and I), I can also remember opening my pantry and realizing that I had 2 boxes of Hamburger Helper, some breakfast cereal, and some of those awful ABC-soup cans that only toddlers enjoy. I didn’t have the hamburger meat to make the Hamburger Helper. My 6 month old slept in a Pak-n-Play at the foot of my bed because I couldn’t afford a crib. I still have a picture of that young boy sitting in one of those tiny plastic chairs that you buy tiny kids in the middle of my living room watching a TV (the old tube-tv’s) that was sitting on the floor because I didn’t own any furniture.
We couldn’t afford any recreational stuff like movies or trips, so our big thing was that Dad would break out the tent and I would set it up in the living room and I can absolutely with picture perfect clarity remember lying in the tent in my living room, on the hard floor, with a kid under each arm, flashlight lights bouncing around inside our tent, as I told the most ridiculous bedtime stories. They would giggle, I’d get them to turn off their lights, and I wiped tears out of my eyes…at both the depth of love I felt, and the fear I had due to our financial calamity.
Just as I described my Molly story, I speak of those times often with such warm remembrances and those same 2 kids, aged 15 and 12 now, laugh with delight when I recount for them what we did and some of the stupid stories we all lived, even though they were too young to remember.
It was terrifying at the time, yet I recall it with warmth. Sometimes I wonder why we do that.
The guy that designs this magazine, Ben Weber, and I have a running joke: each year, during January, I proudly proclaim “Ben, THIS IS MY YEAR! I can feel it in my bones!” He rolls his eyes, we share a laugh, and work resumes in the office. The reason it’s funny is because I’ve been saying that for the past SIX STRAIGHT YEARS, and yet, frankly, life has just been shitty. I won’t bore you with all the details of why, but it’s just been…hard. And I’m tired.
But even though I’m tired, I can sense that I’m starting to recall 2012 and 2013 and subsequent years with some generally warm memories, despite the horrors those years contained. I sort of shrug and say “Can you believe I’m still alive after all that?” and I have a laugh and put one foot in front of the other.
Sometimes I wonder if one of the worst and best things about growing older is that we begin to realize that very few things will actually KILL us, and that eventually we will even look back on crummy things with an air of nostalgia and a smile.
When you are 15, being dumped by your girlfriend is impossible to comprehend. It’s injustice, and it’s heartbreak, and you can’t breathe and you bawl your eyes out privately. When you’re 29 and you go completely and totally broke and have the responsibility of two small children, you damn near hyperventilate at the pressure of it all as their little eyes stare up at yours.
But, I hypothesize, that you ultimately learn that things you think might kill you, actually teach you things that you will learn in no other way. You fantasize about money as a young person and about how you are going to have the huge house and the Maserati. You’ll live in a gated neighborhood and have a pool and a maid and have a very important job where you have a secretary, and will have very important meetings all day and take your kids on amazing summer vacations. And then you stare at your pantry and try to figure out how to make dinner with Chicken Noodle Soup and some old Mac and Cheese. While it sounds funny…well, I guess it is.
That period of going broke turned out to be one period of life that I trust I will forever smile about when I think about it, because I quit caring about a whole hell of a lot of things. I always wanted to be the rich guy with the cool house, but I quit caring during those times. I have a lot of friends that are still working for their pot of gold, and shrug my shoulders a bit. Who cares, man. It could all be gone in an instant. I know I sound a bit like a motivational speaker telling you to value time over money or some such preachy nonsense, and for that, I apologize. I just can honestly say I don’t fear going broke anymore. If it happens, I trust that I’ll double down with those same kids, and we’ll struggle, and we’ll throw the football in the front yard instead of going to Fiesta Texas or for our summer trip to the Coast…and we’ll just be ok.
Just like with heartache and my first girlfriend Molly. If I’m alone, then I’m alone. It’ll hurt, but I’ll be ok. I keep re-reading these paragraphs and I hope I don’t come across as pessimistic, because I’m not meaning to be. Instead, I’m hoping that I sound strong, because we all should be.
There are very, very few things that will KILL us. Very few experiences and tragedies that might befall us will make life end. It might be hard and miserable, but I hate to tell you, you’ll probably survive. Sometimes “perspective” is the best you can muster, but friends, perspective is one seriously strong point of view.
I’m writing this on a cold Tuesday evening in mid-January, and I’m sure that I’ll delete a bunch of this and re-write it in a less rambling manner, but my kids are playing video games in the other room. We just finished steak dinners. I’m sitting on a leather couch in a nice home in a comfortable neighborhood. I have strong relationships in my life, and I am by no means “rich”…but I’m AWAKE. I lost my brother to cancer in 2013 after a year long battle with cancer and so I sometimes look around my living room and simply give thanks for being awake. Sometimes a beating heart is something to take notice and give thanks. No, not sometimes. Always.
Life is one hell of a ride, friends. We all have those stupid memories of kissing your crush under the bleachers at the football game (only to be unceremoniously dumped) and we all remember losing that job that sent the family into a tailspin, and we all (unfortunately) will remember the loss of a loved one. What I suppose I hope you remember is that here you sit, on some February day, reading the ramblings of this guy in this silly little magazine.
And if you remember anything I say, please remember this: Odds are, you’re going to be ok. This is your life, and I sincerely pray that you hold onto it for all you’re worth, and may you smile at the memories it brings you. Because even the crummy ones will probably make you smile. For whomever needed to hear this, I hope you make this life all that it can be and may you hoist a glass some evening this month to the greatest gift of them all: LIFE.
Welcome to February. May you EXPLORE your memories, chuckle at the absurdity of it all, laugh with a friend, cry with a loved one, and hug on those that make life worth living.
Benjamin D. Schooley