This is a short story about what my life used to be like.
That morning he got out of bed, lit a cigarette and headed outside to play with his dog before work. The dog was a result of one of those odd choices he had to make in his earlier years. In high school his parents got divorced which wasn't such a bad thing considering the strain it was putting on them to try and stay together in spite of absolutely hating each other. He stayed with his father while his brother went with his mother. After the dust settled, he lived on his own for the most part because his dad was always at work or on some off road adventure in the middle of nowhere. This newfound freedom was difficult at first, but with some time and adjustment it became his greatest strength. When there is no external direction, a person is forced to decide for themselves how they will choose to live. Fortunately for him, he'd seen leadership in action and he knew right from wrong so he took what he had learned from it to incorporate those lessons into what he wanted his life to be. His dogs decided that they no longer wanted to remain in the yard so they would run around the neighborhood until he found them, except one day he didn't find them. One had been picked up by a neighbor who then found out it was his, but the other vanished. Having a problem that needed solving, he decided to retrain the dog to live in the house so that he wouldn't have to bother chasing him around the neighborhood. Thus began the first real connection he had ever made with an animal. He learned to interpret the dogs' signals just like the dog had learned to interpret his and he thought that if he could learn to communicate with a dog, it must be possible to learn to communicate with other people. Isolation has a way of robbing people of their ability to function socially and after the things he'd seen he really didn't want anything to do with other people, until he fell in love with a girl he met later in his college days.
The woman he met was a beautiful brunette who was part French Canadian, which meant that she had a face like an angel complete with a smile so incredibly warm that when he saw it, he fell faint. They were together for four years, with problems here and there like any couple. Her parents hated him for any number of unknown and random reasons which contributed to their eventual split. Among other things, there was another woman whom he'd known a number of years before that who offered to help him. The other woman helped him into a job through some people she knew, meanwhile he thought he was solving problems to help his relationship with the angel. What he hadn't realized was that in return for said help, she wanted sex. He refused her advances and one day at work he heard that she had attempted suicide because of it. He hadn't told his love how he'd gotten the job, or about the complications that it came with and it caused great stress to the point that he couldn't eat or sleep until his body would shut down. One day he decided to tell her what had happened and why he hadn't been himself. Their love was no more, she wanted nothing to do with him. He quit that job and went back into isolation for another year after that.
This was during the recession so quitting a job was pretty much unheard of but it was taxing his body and mind to the point that something was going to come loose sooner or later. While that was all going on his brother had moved back into their father's house after their mother went bankrupt, so he'd been in charge of driving him back and forth to school and making sure he was on track to graduate. He taught his brother to drive a car and how to take care of himself the best he could. The years he'd seen after seventeen were spent carefully watching and calculating from behind the mask of some unassuming sometimes bumbling average person. In his head he was always conscious of his surroundings, trying to stay a step ahead of what might be coming.
Sometimes he wondered if he was going to make it through those years but this rainy morning behind a cigarette was as peaceful to him as a tranquil clearing in some far off fantasy forest. After playing with the dog and going about his daily routine, he was headed off to work. Work these days wasn't really work because he found his place in a music shop at the center of the twin cities. He went there to teach music two days a week which was a welcome refuge from the storm that had been his life. Like his former mentor he wanted to see another generation infused with the wisdom of those that had come before him. It gave him the opportunity to share the last piece of himself that no one had ever seen. Before that he was always seen as a slacker by his extended family and even some of his acquaintances. What they hadn't seen was the discipline he'd maintained all those years, they hadn't seen the constant and subtle work he'd been doing, they had never seen him for what he really was. After twenty-three he began to put the pieces of his life back together, slowly and methodically clawing his way back out of the black pit of despair that consumed his thoughts. There is something to be said about the resilience people display after times of great hardship. He had watched a revolution on television from the other side of the planet, he'd seen people come together after horrendous acts of terror and he'd seen what it means to love thy neighbor. These days his biggest concern was not where his next meal would come from or whether he'd have to intervene on behalf of a broken promise. These days he watched the world through hopeful eyes.
The story between the other woman and him picked up some time after the eventual collapse of his life. She had been through therapy and was diagnosed as bipolar for which she had been on medication. They had history between them and even though he couldn't be with her when she wanted, he always knew there was something between them. She was still with the boyfriend she'd had since the incident but she wasn't happy with him. Why she stayed with him was a mystery because she was gorgeous and taller than most girls so it wasn't like she couldn't have basically any guy she wanted. Later they fell out again and hadn't spoken for about a year until she went into the hospital again after heavy drinking and drug use. That was when they really began to sort things out between them. They were a good match if they could just put their demons to rest.
On his drive home from the city he crossed through the farmlands and out toward the eastern buttes. He watched the sky as the sun fell behind the hills to the west and he could see the dusk light fading into night. As the car pulled into the same driveway he'd always known he wondered if the constant amidst the chaos of those years was himself. As far as he could tell he was consistent in the choices he made and the actions he chose. He thought that if he died right then, he'd done well enough that if he did face judgment before god he could go without fear. In doing so he also wondered what that meant for the future. Would he ever fall in love again? Would he ever have a child of his own? Could he be someone important to the world some day? Those were the same questions he asked throughout his depression but when he asked them now he thought of them as possibilities rather than impossible dreams.
He watched the stars from the driveway mapping the constellations, and wondering. The books he read spanned a diverse range of subjects from fiction to Campbell and sometimes even technical manuals. He wanted to know what was out there, what could be out there. Where he would have assumed it pointless to ask those questions in the past, he now found them inspiring. Every day was a curse when he just wanted it to end, but these days were the blessed age he was promised in the bleakest times. The shell he put in his father's shotgun never made it out it was nights like these beneath the stars amongst the smell of the fresh rain over the desert floor when he was glad it didn't. He had seen and done so much already that he wondered if the next chapter would slow down or if maybe he was only being given a small reprieve. The difference now was that he knew what he'd been doing in those years and he knew that if he made it through all of that, whatever was next, he would be ready.