The Box: A Short Story

A while ago, I was thrown into The Box. There’s nothing inside of it. It has a door, four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. No lights. No windows. No furniture. No blankets. Just a room. A dark fucking room.

The Box.

Initially, I thought it was completely opaque. When they first threw me in here, I couldn’t see anything. It was like looking into a vacuum. After a while, though, I noticed a faint glow coming from the doorway. Light, seeping in from the outside world. It’s dim, but it’s there, and it’s just enough to allow me to see some of my surroundings, or to at least let me imagine that I’m seeing some of my surroundings.

For example, the walls and the floor aren’t smooth. I can run my fingers across them and feel patterns. When the light from the doorway is on, I can vaguely see images. I’ve named a couple of them. Right next to the door is Vanessa. She’s pretty. Great hair, with eyes that appear or disappear depending on where in The Box I’m looking at her from.

Over on the right-hand side of The Box, there’s Sam. He doesn’t have a lot of detail, but he’s there. I see his eyes and a baseball cap.

When it’s dark and they’re not there, I’m not sure if they’ve gone elsewhere or if I simply can’t find them.

I don’t know if Vanessa and Sam talk about me, but who really knows these kinds of things. I’m not that important. Whatever the case, they’re good listeners. Or at least they used to be.

The floor is scattered with stuff. Most of it, mine. Well, I guess all of it is mine, the entire Box, but when I say that most of it is mine, I mean that it came from me, out of me, and none of it is what you’d call hygienic.

It smells in here. It must. It has to. I’ve been in The Box so long, I only know its smell, and to me, it’s neither good nor bad. It’s just the smell of my reality. But I know how awful it must be.

Vanessa and Sam, they judge me, my smell. Probably my appearance, too. I have to look a tragedy, and they must want to get away from me. This is why I wonder if they leave when it goes dark, if they depart for elsewhere, wherever elsewhere is. I know I’d leave if I could.

Hah. Whatever. No I wouldn’t. I had a chance once. After dinner delivery one night, the door didn’t close all the way or the lock didn’t engage or something like that, and so much light pushed into The Box that it blinded me. Seconds later, it went out, but the door…it remained open. And it stayed open. That’s when I realized that whomever was keeping me here had left for the night, and they hadn’t locked me in.

I sat there forever. Was it a test? Were they testing me? My loyalty? My resilience? I stood up, and my right hand traced the door while my left hand traced the door frame. I pushed, and it opened as wide as it possibly could.

I looked ahead, and the only thing I saw was the night sky. I don’t know where it was, but it didn’t matter. The door was open.

I looked behind me.

“Sam, are you there?”

Sam didn’t answer, so I called out to Vanessa.

“Vanessa. Hey, Van? Are you there?”

She, too, remained quiet.

I sat back down on the floor, keeping one hand on the door and the other on the doorway. I didn’t know what to do. Ever since entering The Box, all I had ever dreamed of was leaving it. But now that I had a chance to do just that, I froze.  

In the background, I could hear Vanessa and Sam whispering. I’m not sure what they were saying, but it didn’t seem very nice.

A tear rolled down my face. Then another. Not long after, I realized I was sobbing.

They found me the next morning, passed out between the door and the door frame. Someone used their boot to roll me back into The Box, and I woke just in time to hear the door locking behind me. I looked at Vanessa and then at Sam. I can’t tell you that I saw them laughing at me, but I knew they were. Just knew it. Assholes.

I spent the next so many hours using my nails to try and scrape them away. To make them disappear. All that earned me was bloody fingertips.

My relationships with both of them, they’ve never recovered. I hear them talk with one another, but they ignore me, and I ignore them.

I don’t know how long I’ve been in here now, and I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore. The Box. It’s my home. It’s where I live. I’m not sure I’ll ever get out.

I’m not sure I want to.  

***

Will here: Memory is funny. Initially, the two wall people in the room with our guy were named Alice and Sam. It bugged me. That was a combination of names I knew, but I couldn’t pinpoint from where. I played with this for days, until one day the following lyric from the Beastie Boys’ song Shake Your Rump popped in to my brain:

“I’m like Sam the Butcher bringing Alice the meat, like Fred Flintstone driving around with bald feet.”

And that’s when it hit me: I knew Alice and Sam from The Brady Bunch. (And from Shake Your Rump, apparently.)

That little bit, my brain trying to pair those two names together, made me chuckle.

Happy 80th, Dad.

Yesterday, August 14, 2021, would have been my dad’s 80th birthday. What an achievement it would have been. If you had asked me in the year 2000 what I thought his odds of hitting 70 were, I would’ve said they were low. Incredibly low. I might have even used the word “impossible.” The dude persisted, though; through so many ups and downs and health issues, he defied the odds. Over the years, there were times when I was sure my siblings and I were going to lose him. Absolutely 100% sure. And then he’d somehow rebound, and a week later he’d be sitting across from you, cigarette in hand, no less, giving you shit for some nonsense reason while you just shook your head in awe at his resilience.  

I wish I had had the opportunity to bring him a Danish yesterday. Hell, I probably would’ve brought four of them. Six. I would have loved to have been able to wish him a happy birthday, to talk about the Phillies and whether their luck would hold, and to just marvel at him.

Maybe we would’ve hit up breakfast at his favorite diner, but more likely I would’ve spent part of my time with him explaining why, yet again, going out to eat inside a restaurant isn’t exactly something we should be doing in the era of Covid. He would’ve snarled and barked and called me names, and I probably would’ve gotten annoyed at him, but all that would’ve been okay. He would’ve still been here.

I would’ve gladly listened to his never-ending (and oftentimes incredibly repetitive) stories about the different Delco “legends” he grew up with, and maybe I would’ve held my tongue and given him a pass for somehow smearing food across his mouth. I would’ve celebrated him, laughed with him, and told him that I loved him.

80. It would’ve been a big one. It was a birthday he had earned the right to celebrate.

If you were talking with me after he was diagnosed with Covid and placed on a ventilator, everything I’m saying above may sound like complete 100% bullshit. And I’d get that, I would understand that reaction, because when he got sick, I have to be honest, I didn’t want him to survive it. He had fought his illness for so long, for more years than I really know. He had been unable to walk or even stand without support for decades. Every single motor function was disappearing. Every single fucking day was a chore.

When he left us in April, I know that it was his time. I know that he was better off dying when he did (though I’ll always hate HOW he died). I know that completely.

Yet, here I am, being selfish, wishing that I had gotten a chance to celebrate with him one more time.

Fucking hypocrite.

So, because I didn’t get a chance to do that, I celebrated him in ways I could. Upon waking, I walked into the living room, where his ashes have been resting since his passing, and wished him a happy birthday. I talked with him for a bit, and then after walking the dogs around the neighborhood, I came back, placed his urn into a backpack and took him for a hike around the trail system at the end of my cul de sac.

Weird, I know. Can’t say I ever imagined THAT happening, but it did.

And you know what? It was fucking fantastic, because it was something I wish I had been able to do with him while he was alive but never could. Yesterday, though, we did it. We hiked together. I talked with him, out loud, the entire time. I told him that I loved him and that I missed him deeply. I told him that I was struggling for many reasons, and that his absence in my life was one of the major ones. I described the depression I’ve been experiencing.

As we walked, I also described the trail. I showed him Indian Orchards and identified the turn to Linvilla. I told him where it usually gets muddy, where things looked different, and I told him (while being completely out of breath) how much I hated the final hill that takes us back up to the street.

If anyone had seen me, I’m not sure what they would’ve thought, because there I was, hiking and chatting with someone who wasn’t there. But, you know what, at 6:30 in the morning, the only people on the trail where him and I. After 30 minutes, it was time to head back home. I was hot and sweaty and did not want to start sweating through the backpack and soiling the urn.

The things you fucking do sometimes, right? I mean, who thought I’d ever type THAT sentence?

After we got back, I opened up a pack of scrapple, and cooked it just like he would have: thin, with crisp browned sides while maintaining just a little bit of mush in the middle.  Beth, Squirt and I sat down (with Squirt passing on the scrapple) and we ate our breakfast in his honor.

Perhaps the only thing missing was a Danish or four. Or six.

Earlier in the week, I did something I absolutely know, for sure, he would’ve hated. I got a tattoo in his honor.

Back when he was initially diagnosed with Covid, I had an appointment set up with my guy Steve at Black Moth Tattoo and Gallery in Ardmore. But because I was in an isolation room with Dad for a few hours, I quarantined in a hotel for a week. That same week, I was scheduled for a tattoo session with Steve. So I rescheduled. This past Wednesday, I finally sat for the session. And because of the rescheduling, I was able to ask Steve to add one more tattoo into the mix, and he graciously obliged.

My dad loved the beach. One of his favorite spots in the world was the observation deck of The Stockton Inn in Cape May, New Jersey; he’d sit out there with his siblings and talk and chat and laugh and love, and he’d sit out there all by himself and people watch.

He would often ask us to take him down. And we did, for quite a few years, but about 10 years ago his body just wasn’t able to handle the stress of being away from his apartment anymore. His experiences, and ours, became absolutely miserable, and after getting back into the apartment he’d swear that never wanted to leave it ever again.

But then a year or so would go by, and he’d start asking, “Hey, kid, what if I paid for a week at The Stockton this year? What about renting a house?”

It broke my fucking heart, year after year, to say no, to deny him that joy, because while he may have forgotten how horribly his body reacted to being away from home, I didn’t. I remembered.

Without going into unnecessary details, I just couldn’t take him down anymore. Just could not do it. Instead, when he would bring it up, I was stuck breaking his heart by denying such an easy wish to grant for someone even remotely healthy.

So, what did I do this week? I got a tattoo of an empty wheelchair on the beach at water’s edge. Cause, yeah. I miss him. And I wish I could’ve done more for him while he was here.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you. I hope you don’t hate the tattoo, though I suspect you do.

The Heaviness of Weight

In my gut, it feels like what I’m about to write belongs in my journal, away from the eyes of others, but I also know I need to vent, to release, which means it should go onto the blog.

I can’t say I’m excited about that, but … so be it.

 It’s been about five months since my mom died of cancer. It’s been about three months since my dad died of Covid. When I write that, when I read that, it doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t make sense; it sounds and reads incredibly wrong. Then again, I don’t know what sounds right. Yeah, they’re dead. I know they’re dead. But the time frame, it’s all fucked up. At times it feels like they died forever ago, and at other times it feels like they passed away yesterday, but all the time if feels as if the past so many months have been shrouded behind dark, thick clouds that only allow sunshine through every so often. I was grieving my mom for months prior to her passing, and then she died, and eight weeks to the day later, my dad died (and in between those events there was related, horrific nonsense), and the level of grief that washed over me nearly drowned me.

And then shortly after that, while still struggling to come up for air, I began sitting down to dinner every night staring at a pile of paperwork for my dead mom to the left-hand side of the room and a pile of paperwork for my dead dad to the right-hand side of the room.

So heavy. So fucking heavy. Grief carries unimaginable weight.

Months later, I’m still staring at their estate paperwork. Months later, I’m still struggling to breathe. I haven’t had a chance to get away from their deaths, to escape their deaths, to take a break from the grief, because every day I’m surrounded by it, staring down the responsibilities that come with being executor for both estates. I’ve been depressed, deeply depressed, for quite a while now. I pull myself out of it every so often. It disappears for a couple days at a time, but then it comes back and decides to crush me just because it knows it can, for the pure joy of it.

The weight of it is un-fucking-believable.

On top of that, I’m also dealing with the aftermath of their funerals and my (perhaps flawed) perception of those people who weren’t there for me. People who I expected to be there for me, either physically or emotionally, and who just weren’t.

It’s a really shitty way to live, second guessing your relationships with people. I want to give people grace, but my usual empathetic self just hasn’t found the strength to do so yet. I want to let the stress of it all go, to give people the benefit of the doubt and say that they didn’t make it to their services or reach out because of all the extraneous nonsense surrounding Covid. I mean, that’s reasonable. I know that’s reasonable. It’s entirely fucking reasonable.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that the reason people didn’t make it to their services or reach out was simply because I’m not an important enough person to them. I mean, especially when it comes to my dad. People were vaccinated at that point. They were out traveling. They were doing things. And people knew that I had cared for him for 25 odd years, how close he and I were. And so many people just didn’t come to his services—or even worse, there were those who didn’t even acknowledge his death or the death of my mom at all.

It hurts.

I’m hoping that the pain goes away soon. I want it to disappear. I don’t like feeling this way. But…those piles of papers. (I can’t even begin to tell you about the complexities I’m experiencing, but holy fuck some of this shit just sucks out loud; prior to their deaths, I could not have invented or imagined the issues I’m having right now.)

Of course, because I’m depressed, that shit has manifested in other ways, the most obvious one being weight gain. I’m the heaviest I’ve been in a long time, and that has brought out a whole other layer of self-pity. I’m still exercising (the garage is basically a fully functional gym at this point), but I’m eating like hell and keeping all the local breweries and taquerias afloat, and that’s resulted in some rather significant weight gain.

Nobody is going to call me fat, but my clothes don’t fit like they should (or don’t fit at all), I look heavy, and I certainly feel heavy. I need to get my nutrition back on track, but I’ve been telling myself that for months and it hasn’t happened yet.

Ten-percent IPAs, rocks glasses of Teremana tequila, and tacos don’t make the pain go away, but they sure do numb it. At least temporarily.

So…yeah, a lot going on and nothing going on all at once.

I want to say that I’m on the road to getting better. I’m off social media. I’m continuing to work out. I’m so thankful for time spent with friends. Squirt will be fully vaccinated in just a couple months, and that might allow me to let my guard down in other ways.

I want to feel better. I want to be healed. I’m just not there yet.

My eulogy to my father


When you think of a giant, you don’t think of a five seven, one hundred and twenty pound man (at most), who appeared even smaller than that due to the ravages of scoliosis and a life spent in a wheelchair. Yet, my dad was huge. He was a mountain. Despite being unable to stand, he stood taller than any person I have ever known. His presence in my life will forever be massive. He was a giant.

When you think of a teacher, you don’t think of someone who never left their home, who was basically a shut-in. Yet every time I saw my dad, he taught me something. He taught me how to persevere. He taught me gratefulness. He taught me Delco. He taught me how to live my best life and the importance of enjoying it, and he taught me all of this and so much more without even trying to. He taught me with his example. He was a teacher.

When you think of a strong man, you don’t think of someone whose hands started shaking the moment he picked up a fork, a knife, or a morning cup of coffee. Yet, my dad was the strongest person I will ever know. He did so much on his own, more than he should have had to, and more than what was right. And he never complained. He just did it. He was strong. He was so strong.

When you think of a lively man, you don’t think of someone who habitually slept vast portions of the day away. Yet, if you got into conversations with my dad, if you engaged him on topics ranging from sports to current events to the importance of family, he would sit up straighter, talk a little louder—okay, a lot louder—and dominate the conversation. If you put his grandchildren in front of him, he would simply light up, and the smile he was never able to quite muster for a photograph suddenly appeared naturally. He was lively.

When you think of a proud man, you don’t think of someone who was continually unkempt. Yet, if you saw how concerned my dad was with his hair, if you ever popped his cap off and helped him tame his untamable cow lick, you would have seen just how much his appearance mattered to him. If you talked with him about family, about his children’s or grandchildren’s accomplishments or his siblings or his nieces and nephews, his pride was evident. He loved his family more than anything and would have done anything for anyone, and he was proud of everyone. He was proud.

When you think of a healthy man, you don’t think of someone who battled a degenerative brain disorder for decades, who suffered from respiratory issues for years, and who was in so much pain he continually sought out new treatment modalities—none of which ever really worked. No doubt about it: my dad was a medical mess. But he was emotionally healthy, mentally healthy, at least most of the time. Life beat him down, but it never beat him. It never defeated him. He was always so happy to see you, so excited to spend time with you, and so understanding if something prevented you from visiting. Plus, let’s get this right: Despite all of his myriad health issues, it took a pandemic to finally take him from us. I have to repeat that, because it’s stunning in so many ways: It took a pandemic to finally take him from us. He was healthy, at least in some ways.

My dad defeated the odds far longer than we ever expected him to. He kept fighting, he kept smiling, and he kept loving right up until the end. He was my hero. He was the best father I could ever have hoped for. I love you, Dad. I will miss you every day.

Goodbye, Dad

On Thursday afternoon, Kate, Mike, Meg, and I said our final goodbyes to our father without knowing how much longer he would last, without knowing how long his ever-present resilient streak would keep him alive. We said our goodbyes over FaceTime. Over a fucking video chat. I’m grateful for it, to have had the chance to gather with my siblings and say goodbye to him, but at the same time, I hate that it happened that way. I hate that we were in the hospital, literally on the same fucking floor as him, but we couldn’t see him face to face. We couldn’t touch him. He couldn’t feel our physical presence. We couldn’t surround him with love and let him know that we were there, by his side, for his final journey.

I understand why. I mean, Covid. He had Covid, and all the requisite precautious were put into place. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, though. That doesn’t mean that I have to like that he spent his last week and a half with us locked away in isolation. I hated knowing that as we spoke with him, he was so close, yet so far away. He deserved better. After fighting for so many years, he deserved better than to die while being isolated from his loved ones. But that’s how it went down, because 2020-2021 is an absolute shitshow and Covid sucks.

He passed early Friday morning, before sunrise. His strength, which had carried him year after year, departed into the moonlight.

He was given such extraordinarily good care during this last, final battle with his health. All the nurses and physicians were rooting for him to beat Covid, but with his history of respiratory issues and his already frail nature, I don’t know if he ever stood a chance against it. But they tried. They really tried. And so did he. His respirations went up and down and back up like a yoyo. There were even times that his respirations almost came back to normal. As crazy as it seemed, we actually considered that he was possibly going to beat it.

But then the bottom dropped out. And when it became obvious that his condition was worsening, when it came time to place him in hospice, his caregivers cried with us, shed tears with us, and I’m so grateful that I could feel their empathy, their warmth. Even though they had only known my dad for a short time, we knew they genuinely cared for him and did not want to see him suffer.

If you never met my dad, you’re worse off for it. I have no doubt about that. I don’t believe in saints or blessed people, but I do believe in the power of everyday people. Those people who wake up day in and day out and inspire others through the sheer force of their own will. Through the sheer force of their existence.

That was my dad.

I’ve long thought about what I would say, what I would write, upon his passing. Honestly, I’ve had decades. Literally fucking decades. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen within two months of my mom’s death.

Fuck. You. 2020-2021.

There are many cliches I could share about my dad, many thoughts I know you’ve heard before about many people. Today, I’m going to strive to avoid all of those, though I know I’m going to fail at that endeavor.

So be it.

I really began to know and understand and truly love my dad in the summer of 1995. That’s the summer I moved in with him after five years in the Marine Corps. I can remember the phone call that changed my life. “Hey, Dad, it’s Will. I’m going to change my residency to California. Qualify for their in-state tuition. Go to school for oceanography.”

Silence.

“Well, my family thought you’d come home and live with me.”

That’s all it took. That simple statement. Within seconds, I knew that he needed my help, that he needed me by his side. Back then, I had no idea how sick he was—and I certainly had no idea what the next 25+ years of his life would look like, but I knew that was his call for help.

So I did what I would like to think most of us would do if put in the same situation: I got on an airplane, in utter tears as I left the best friends I had ever known, and traveled “home” to a place that felt as strange to me as an alien planet.

Thank fucking god I accepted that mission. That fucking god I honored his request.

Thank fucking god that age 22 I decided to come home and take care of my dad.

If not, I wouldn’t have met Beth. If not, I wouldn’t be Squirt’s dad. If not, I wouldn’t have the awesome, supportive, close-knit relationships that I have with my siblings. If not, I wouldn’t have made the friends that I’ve made.

If not, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be some weird alternate version of me. I assume I’d still like punk rock and have tattoos, but my life and experiences would be different and I never would’ve met the people who are now closest to my heart.

To hell with all that.

So in 1995, I came home, and in the years since, I’ve been honored to call William Welsh my father.

There are so many things one can ask of their dad. You can ask him to be strong.

Check.

You can ask him to be tenacious.

Check.

You can ask him to be resilient.

Check.

You can ask him to be joyful.

Check.

You can ask him to be supportive.

Check.

You can ask him to be resolute.

Check.

You can ask him to be the strongest motherfucker you’ve ever known.

Check motherfucking check.

And you can ask him to be inspirational.

Check. One hundred times check.

My dad was all of that and more, despite the world spitting in his face, telling him off, and making him work for every smile he ever put across his face.

That dude…he was my hero.

Have you ever known someone who makes your day better just with their sheer existence? Who prevents you from having a bad day, just because you know their day was a tad bit—or even way more than a tad bit—shittier, and despite that, they keep on smiling? And they do so day after day after day?

That was my dad. I don’t think there have ever been too many people quite like him.

He didn’t allow me to have bad days. He didn’t allow me to feel self-pity. He didn’t allow me time to ponder the shitty days or the shitty weeks or even the shitty months.

You know why?

Because he didn’t have what most of us would consider a single fucking good day for DECADES.

His good days were not shitting himself.

His good days were feeling well enough to eat.  

His good days were being able to stay in bed because he was too weak or in too much pain to do anything else.

His good days were falling and somehow not injuring himself.

His good days were pushing through so much pain and frustration but still saying, “Hey, guy! How are you?!” the second you walked through his door.

His good days were measured in the tiniest of moments. And god damn if he didn’t make you feel it.

This is not to say that he wanted to make you feel bad. It’s not to say he was trying to lay a guilt trip. He was honestly interested in knowing how your day was actually going! He wanted to hear how good it was! He wanted to know the joy in your life! He wanted to know where your smiles were coming from, cause guess what? That’s where his smiles were coming from, too!

He. Would. Not. Let. You. Have. A. Bad. Day. Because. His. Good. Days. Were. Way. Worse. Than. Your. Worst. Days.

His health started to go awry in the late ‘80s, when he began to notice that his balance was off. While walking, he would just start to stumble, like he was drunk. After some time, he was diagnosed with olivopontocerebellar ataxia, a rare degenerative neurological disorder that slowly robs you of your motor function. His balance was the first thing to noticeably deteriorate, and over time all of his motor functions began to suffer. He would have intentional tremors. His speech became incredibly hard to understand. Even the process of eating became difficult—because what is swallowing but another motor function? And around 20 years ago, he became wheelchair bound.

It was an impossible life, but he lived it with so much dignity, a dignity that was more powerful than a simple glace at him could tell you. Because, trust me, Dad was not the most dignified-looking person. His appearance? Let’s just say that it wasn’t regal. It makes me laugh just thinking about it. Poor guy was constantly disheveled. He had a head of hair that I will forever remain jealous of, and it was a perpetual mess. The remnants of his last meal or snack were always smeared across his face or in his lap or both. His clothes were a way, and by “a way,” I mean a fucking wrinkle bomb. Yet, if you saw past all of that, what you saw was a guy who decided to live in an apartment on his own and on his own terms. He’d ask for help when needed, but he would try not to. He didn’t want to be a hindrance, a burden, he didn’t want to hold you back from living your life.

If only he knew that he was the opposite of a hindrance. He taught me how to live life, and he did so from the confines of a wheelchair.

Another thing to know about my dad is this: Dude loved arguing. I mean, he would take the opposite side of an argument just to do it, just to piss you off, just to get into a debate with you. And this guy, he was good at it. He would somehow take the most benign of conversations to ridiculous levels. I can remember having to leave his apartment multiple times just because I couldn’t continue with the conversation, because I was so incredibly frustrated by his argument or his line of thinking, and as I walked out the door I could hear him laughing, because he knew he had won.

He loved pushing buttons.

There were also times, though, that he enjoyed deeper conversations, conversations about life and its mysteries. I can remember one day in particular. We’d talk about religion often, about how his family was Catholic and I went to Catholic school for 12 years, and yet there I sat, completely nonreligious. He’d poke at me fairly often about this. It bothered him, not because I wasn’t religious, necessarily, but because I was breaking family tradition, and tradition was important.

One day, we found ourselves conversing about it for the umpteenth time. This conversation, though, was a long one, way longer than normal. He kept on it, kept pressing me. He really wanted me to express myself, to hear my line of thinking. And then at some point, we just stopped and he looked at me. He took a pause and said, “I’ll give you this, I think you know why you believe what you believe more than most people ever will.”

I can’t tell you how good it felt for me to hear him say those words, not just because he finally knew where I was coming from, but because he took the time to actually listen and understand.

That moment meant the world to me. It still does.

Outside of arguing and debating, he also loved needling people about things. He loved giving people a hard time, and the more he loved someone, the harder he’d attack. Sometimes he’d take it too far, get a little too personal or say something a bit too on the nose, but he didn’t know any better. At least that’s the excuse we always made for him. And by and large, when that occurred, someone would let him know, and he’d correct course.

He’d keep that smile on his face though, the mischievous fucker.

I don’t know where I go without my dad. All I know is this. I will love him forever. I will honor him forever. I will never have another person in my life quite like him.

No one else will ever force me to have good days like he did, to force me to see the bright side of life, to be grateful for the smallest things, and to honor and respect my own body’s capabilities because I know full well, thanks to him, that not everyone is lucky enough to have a body that works. So if you do—and I’m speaking to the person reading this right now—if you have a body that works, be grateful for it and push it, make it sweat, make it sore, and keep it in shape, because you…you’re one of the lucky ones.

I’ll forever praise him for being my inspiration. I’ll forever praise him for being my good day, my smile.

I will forever miss him.

There are many times throughout life when you hear the phrase, He or She was the best of us. It’s not always true. I’d say most of the time it isn’t true. Very often, it’s just a catch phrase. It sounds good, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that my dad was the best of us. And if you don’t believe that, it’s only because you never knew him.

I love you, Pops, and I’ll miss you forever. 

On Grief and Isolation

On Friday, February 26, my mom passed away. She was 71. She was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in September, and she battled the disease hard. We thought we were losing her in November, but she bounced back and continued fighting. Following her last chemotherapy treatment in December, she even had a short spell where her strength seemed to return and she seemed somewhat robust, all things considered. She continued to receive immunotherapy treatments, and those hit her hard, physically and emotionally, but she fought back as much as she was able. My siblings and I even had to tell her to slow down, to not do so much, to rest.

Eventually, however, the cancer came roaring back, and when it did her decline was swift. She passed away with all of her children and her brother and sister-in-law at her bedside. I believe it was as peaceful for her as it was for us. We got to say good-bye together, as a family, which was a very special moment, especially considering that many families are not able to gather in this way thanks to the pandemic.

In the days since her passing, I’ve experienced myriad emotions. I’ve grieved my mom; worried about my dad, even though they’ve been divorced decades; laughed and cried with my wife, daughter, siblings and their families, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins. The time I’ve shared with my family has been incredibly special. We’ve gotten closer than ever, and I’m super grateful for them all.

I’ve also been lonely. Dreadfully lonely. Mostly when I’m not surrounded by a group of people, which is more often than not. And I feel the need to write about it, not only to help me process what I’m experiencing, but also to share my experience with others so that if you have friends or family who have lost someone close to them during Covid, you might have an idea of what they’re going through.

Following my mom’s death, I was grateful for any and all communication with the outside world. Text messages came in, as did messages via Instagram and Facebook Messenger. I had multiple friends check in on me multiple times, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated those check-ins. Because, fuck, this shit is hard.

A week after her passing, we had her viewing and a small, family-only memorial service. We wondered about attendance. Who would show? How many people? Would it be lightly attended? Crowded? Somewhere in the middle?

If I’m being honest, I think we expected light attendance, perhaps very light attendance, to be standing by her casket for 90 minutes without very many people stopping in to pay their respects.

Thankfully, we were very pleasantly surprised. My mom touched many lives during her decades spent as a childcare provider, and so many of the children (many now adults) she cared for over the years turned out for her, as did many of their parents. It was heartwarming and touching and I ended up hugging a ton of people who I hadn’t ever met—and will likely never meet again.

My brother’s friend circle came out in force. If you don’t know my brother and his friends, it’s hard to explain just how tight-knit this crew is. They’ve been incredibly close for as long as I remember, and they’ve remained close despite life pulling them in different directions—professionally, personally, and even geographically. Yet they were all there, and it was beautiful to see. It was special.

Overall, it just felt good to see people, to connect. Even though we couldn’t see each other’s smiles, we knew they were there because we heard the laughter and we saw eyes wrinkle up as they only do when smiles are big and bright.

Weird to say, but my mom’s viewing was a much-needed break from the isolation of the past year and the crushing weight my siblings and I had been experiencing since September and especially the week prior.

Then…the weekend hit, and outside a few hours spent with my family at my Mom’s, things got quiet. I became lethargic. Gray. Just completely out of sorts. Then Monday arrived, and as I walked into the spare bedroom that my wife and I now share as an office because we’ve worked from home for the past year, I felt myself shudder. The last thing I wanted to do was walk into that office. I would’ve much rather gone into my office at work, the one that’s downtown, the one that would normally be filled with energy and faces I haven’t seen in 12 months. The one where I would see friends’ smiles, where people might attempt to cheer me up or console me or just say, “Hey, I’m really sorry. Let me know if you want to grab a coffee or something.”

Instead, I’m sitting at my home computer, writing this, where people can’t see me, and it just has me feeling lonely and isolated and in need of people in a big, bad way. And there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. It is what it is. We’re all in this isolation bubble and when you need people, even when you really fucking need people, people just aren’t around.

And please don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying people should be doing more or more people should have shown up at the viewing or anything like that, because hell…Covid. I understand our options for connecting with one another are limited right now. I do. It just sucks that this is the case.

If I have a piece of advice, it’s this: If you have a friend or a family member who loses someone important to them at this moment, it’s very possible that they’re feeling very similar to how I am right now—especially if they’ve taken the social distancing precautions seriously. Reach out. Say hello. A simple text message or a short five-minute phone call could very well be the highlight of their day. I’m no expert on grief, but my experience tells me that it’s cosmically harder to pull ourselves out of a grieving funk without the help of others.

Thanks for listening.

An Observation. Some Questions.

A few things about myself. I enjoy writing. I enjoy other people reading what I write. People have told me they enjoy reading what I write. All of this is well and good, right?

It is.

But… (There’s always a motherfucking “but,” isn’t there?) … I’m not good at writing for myself. I don’t do it. This means that almost everything I write outside of my daily journaling gets published in some shape or form. There’s this site. There was an old site, one that I can’t remember the name of anymore. (Probably a good thing.) There was/is @verytinytales, a Twitter account I used to write and post microstories to. For some reason, I never deleted it, never got rid of it. Some of the stories are good. Many aren’t. Most are at least interesting. A bunch are pretty dark. I think I’ve kept it open because I’ve always considered going back to it and then pulling the stories together into a book of some sort, but when Twitter decided to increase its character count limit I lost interest.

Why do motherfuckers need to be so wordy?

Why am I saying all this? Because after some time thinking about all of the above, I’ve realized that I have a bit of a problem: I’m a good writer, but perhaps I’m at my best when I’m writing about my fears, my challenges, my insecurities. When I open myself up and let myself bleed onto the page. Or the keyboard. Or whatever it is I’m using to write that day.

Unfortunately, what this means is that all the things I write and then publish online uncover a bit of my soul.

Fuck, just that sentence above exposes me. I can peek into a person’s head right now: Look at this guy, going on about how emotionally vulnerable he is. What a goon.

Before going deeper, let’s get this one thing straight: We’re all emotionally vulnerable. Each and every one of us. We might show it in diverse ways, might express that vulnerability differently (or not at all), but we all can find ourselves feeling paper thin and ready to tear at the slightest bit of added stress.

We’re all fucking fragile.

My issue is, in order for me to be at my creative best, I have to tap into that fragility, that vulnerability, put a fucking needle into it, and then let it flow onto the page. And then to make it worse, I have to put it on display. Let the world see it.

Let the world see me, with all my flaws. Or at least the flaw I’m talking about at that moment.

It makes me wonder if this is a good thing. I mean, is it? I don’t know. Is this what you’re here for? To read about someone else’s vulnerability? To know that you’re not alone? That someone else is going through shit, too?

I’m no self-help guru. I’m not an expert on self-improvement. I don’t have any special insights or training or anything else that makes me qualified to give advice. And that’s not what I’m really trying to do. Instead, I’m just writing about my own challenges and insecurities, and then choosing to share my thoughts. That’s all. If it helps you, good. Great, in fact! I’m glad.

Does it help me, though? It must, because I keep doing it. But this whole post is one big question mark: Am I doing a good thing?

Seriously, let me know. Leave me a comment. Send an e-mail. Shoot me a text or a message on Insta or Facebook if we know each other via one of those platforms. I’m honestly curious about your thoughts on where I’ve taken Villain Complex.

Until next Tuesday, friends.

Social Anxiety + Covid = ?

As 2020 came to a close, the family and I celebrated Christmas Day at home and then took off to spend a week in a small beach shack in the Outer Banks.

I’ve always wanted to get away from the dizzying nature of the holidays, to escape the stress of the usual onslaught of social commitments, and just be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Bonus points, though, for a place where life is allowed to be slow, the schedule is clear, the screened-in porch is inviting, the sunrises and sunsets are glorious, the sound of the waves is hypnotic, the beer is cold, and where you may find yourself wondering what in the hell you’re going to do in order to fill all the hours of the day.

It’s not that I don’t love my family or enjoy seeing friends, because I truly do love spending time with them all. What I perhaps don’t like, though, is how so much of this visitation is crammed into a span of 7 to 10 days.

I mean, fuck, there are 51 other weeks in the year to get together. Do we really have to shove and compress and overschedule our holidays to the point that it causes stress and exhaustion? Is it truly necessary?

It’s very possible that you’re reading this and feel the exact opposite way. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you think I’m a massive grinch or a party pooper or something similar. And, maybe, just maybe, I might agree with you.

So, I have to admit, the forced socially distant holiday was pretty spectacular. The beach wasn’t exactly warm, the water was straight up fucking cold, and it started getting dark around 5 p.m. instead of near 9, but I got to hang out tons with my wife and daughter and we weren’t rushing around from place to place like a trio of rabid Santa Clauses trying to deliver last-minute gifts.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

One of the things I managed to do during this getaway was watch Bad Religion’s third Decades show featuring a unique setlist from the aughts. (In case you missed it *cough*likely*cough* they released four unique virtual shows, one show for each of the four decades they’ve been together, the 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s.) And a couple weeks before this show, I caught The Bouncing Souls virtual Home for the Holidays show, which was straight-up spectacular.

Watching these concerts has been refreshing in a way I didn’t expect. For example, prior to watching them, I haven’t been a fan of watching bands or musicians perform on TV. It’s never been my thing. I’d rather put an album on the stereo and listen rather than sit down and watch. (Is that a thing people still say, “the stereo”? Good lord, I’m old.)

Now, though, after having not been to a show since at least March, I’m super grateful for the escape that these virtual concerts have provided. It’s not normal, but it’s an abnormal I can embrace. At least for now. At least until my favorite bands start touring again. And maybe even longer.

Why longer? Well, this question ties back to the whole socially distanced holiday thing I brought up at the start of this blog. I want to throw something by you and get your thoughts: Remember pre-pandemic, when it was time for an evening out? I don’t know about you, but I can tell you a little thing about me, something you may have already guessed: Very often I was the guy who just did NOT want to leave the house. More often than not, my anxiety would build up and I’d just be like…ugh, I really don’t feel like having to do this tonight. I really don’t want to go. And sometimes I wouldn’t. I’d make excuses and wouldn’t go, disappointing people along the way.

At times, this tendency of mine would show up in extreme ways. The end-of-year work party? Yeah, I’m the guy who has felt so awkward that I’ve shown up to the main party, always held at a hotel ballroom, only to disappear to the hotel bar or lobby until I figured that it was time to head back before being missed. I’m the guy whose anxiety gets the best of him so badly that very often the only reason I show up for big group events is because I know I’m expected to. When this happens, I’m freaking the fuck out on the inside and wanting to be anywhere else but where I’m standing. I eventually calm down, and I’m not sure if anyone has ever picked up on the extreme level of uncomfortableness I often feel, but it’s a thing.

The worst of it, at least for me, is when I’m at a thing with lots of people and find myself by myself, because that means I need to find a group of people to insert myself into. I need to be the person who walks up to a group that’s already in mid-conversation and stand there waiting for someone to move over six inches, to invite me in, all the while hoping to be accepted.

Now, let me say this: Rational Will, the Will writing this blog entry, realizes that 99% of the time this is not a concern I should have. It just isn’t. I think it’s fair to say that people generally like me and I get along with almost everyone. I know that. That doesn’t mean, however, that in the moment before I’m about to step up to a group I’m any less anxious about the situation.

Ugh. When you’re 48, you should be better at life than this.

Now, let’s take that anxiety and add in a year or 18 months of NOT really being able to go out. A year of not forcing myself into uncomfortable social situations. A year of limited isolation.  I don’t know about you, but I can already see how I’m going to struggle when things go back to normal. I have social anxiety. I have imposter syndrome. And the past year has allowed those personal attributes to stay hidden and unchallenged.

For as much as I say I can’t wait to go out and see people again, to mingle and socialize, I’m curious what my actions will show. I rarely feel 100% comfortable socially because I always fight the feeling that I don’t quite fit in with those around me. It’s a character flaw that I’ve never gotten over, and it’s one that has also convinced me to stay at home when I know I should go out. And while I don’t know this for sure, I assume it’ll have gotten worse when it’s time to enter the world at large again.

And I know I’m not alone.

For now, it’s not something I’m overly worried about, despite the 1200 words that preceded this sentence. It’s a flaw I know I need to address, and maybe typing this out and sharing it with the world is the first step to correcting it. We’ll see. Until then, I’m going to hunker down, wait out the winter, and anticipate the arrival of spring and its blooms. In 2021, all those new blooms may contain more meaning than they have in quite a long time.

2020: The Year of You

Seven and a half months. Seven and a half fucking months we’ve been dealing with Covid and its repercussions. Just a year ago, most of us were gearing up for Halloween and starting to map out how we were going to survive the holidays and the bludgeon of commitments they bring. Now, however, we’re left to debate if it’s safe to send your kids out trick-or-treating and, if so, the precautions that need to be taken in order to keep them safe.

2019, the second the kids enter the house: Parents quickly hide the alcohol they started drinking the moment the kids left the house. “Okay, kids, let dad go through your bags and make sure there aren’t any razor blades lurking in a candy bar.” Dad takes off into a corner with the candy and immediately begins to inhale as much as humanly possible in the next two minutes.

2020, the second the kids enter the house: “WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS! WASH THEM NOW! THEN EMPTY OUT THE CANDY AND BURN THE BAGS YOU WERE USING AND GARGLE WITH MOUTHWASH 20 TIMES OVER THE NEXT HOUR!”

Instead of wondering how you’re going to pretend to love Aunt Jackie’s salmonella-flavored stuffing and dry ass turkey, you’re trying to figure out how to get Nana, who has never held a cell phone or used a computer, logged into Zoom for a socially distant Thanksgiving. And instead of practicing the smile you’d give after opening up yet another year-long subscription to the Ugly Ass Tie of the Month Club, you’re left wondering if it’s even worth the hassle of putting up a Christmas tree because you’re pretty confident the only soul you’re going to see in 2020 is the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Ho-Ho-Fucking-Ho.

So, yeah, it’s a pretty dire situation, and now that fall has arrived and winter is on the way, things are looking really bleak for the next few months.

You know what, though? That’s okay. Because you’ve got this. You’ve got this because you’ve had this. And over the past seven months, you’ve learned so much about yourself. You’ve become a better, stronger person, even if you don’t know it. Even if you don’t see it.

How do I know this? I know this because you’ve had major fucking successes over the course of the past seven months and that in order to achieve those successes, you’ve had to overcome incredibly difficult obstacles.

There are positives about 2020. You just have to look for them. Here are a few. I bet that you’ll see yourself in at least a couple of them.

You can do hard shit. If you’re reading this, you’re a survivor, because let’s face it: Making it this far hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been physically easy, and it sure as hell hasn’t been emotionally easy. Yeah, you’ve had a few breakdowns. Maybe more than a few. Your eyes have had this horrible habit of getting a bit watery. (Stupid allergies.) And there are times when you’ve just stood still and thought to yourself, I can’t. I just can’t. Not today. I can’t handle the monotony for one more moment. I can’t walk into that room and sit in that chair one more god-damn day. But you know what you did the moment that thought left your head? You walked into that room and sat in that chair and began your day. You sucked up the Groundhog Day-ness of it all, chewed it up, and spit it out.

I reiterate: You can do hard shit. You’ve proven it. Own it. Be proud of it. YOU CAN DO HARD SHIT.

You’ve identified the shit you care about. I can guarantee that over the past seven months you’ve found yourself waist deep in at least one or two interests. Maybe it’s your work. Maybe it’s locating interesting hikes. Maybe it’s trying to humiliate 12-year-olds at Fortnite. Maybe you picked up the guitar that’s been lying about collecting dust and starting strumming. Perhaps you rediscovered your love for cooking because you’re home so much more. Whatever it is that you’ve been doing, I bet that if you look over the past seven months you’ve been doing so much more of it than you ever thought possible—and holy shit, you’re actually enjoying it.

Hallelujah.

You’ve identified the people you truly care about. This is a big one, because let’s face it: You’re simply not around people as much as you used to be. All those co-workers you used to see five days a week? Yeah, they’re all working from home, too. Random acquaintances that you’d see out and about? Well, you’re not out and about and either are they. Relationships that seemed easy because they were convenient aren’t convenient anymore. Now think about the people you’ve made a concerted effort to reach out to over the past seven months, the people you’ve kept in your circle just by shooting them a text and saying hello once a month. Maybe you’re shocked by some of the people you’ve decided to keep close, and maybe you’re shocked by some of those who have kinda slipped away. Either way, now you know who is important, or at least you know who you have treated as important. Make a note of who these people are and why they’re the ones you’ve kept close. And if there’s someone you do care about and haven’t kept close, it’s never too late to start.

You’ve identified the people who care about you. This works hand in hand with the above, and it’s very possible that you’re shocked by some of the people who have decided to keep you close. What a nice surprise! In some ways, this list might be more surprising than the one up above, because you might have not expected these relationships to continue during the weirdness of 2020 but they did despite all the nonsense. Of course, it might be a difficult list to look at as well, because there might be people who you expected more out of, people you expected to reach out who haven’t. Lesson learned about those people? Maybe not. We’re all dealing with 2020 in our own ways, and it’s certainly turned some of us into recluses. So don’t write someone off who is important to you just because they’ve been quiet. Reach out and say hello. Maybe they’re waiting for you to prove that they’re important to you.

You’ve found ways to cope. So, if you’ve been coping by drinking a 12-pack of Milwaukee’s Best each night, you might want to bypass this section. I’m going to guess, however, that’s not you. Instead, you’re probably someone who has found a healthy coping mechanism, healthy diversions. Maybe you’ve found an online support group or joined a book club or decided to turn your garage into a gym. Maybe you started crocheting the hell out of some shawls (okay, this sentence amuses me because I have no idea what you crochet; crocheting a shawl is a shot in the dark), taken multiple walks each day, started learning a new language, baked goods for neighbors, or spent the first 30 minutes of each day practicing yoga, breathwork, or meditation. Regardless of what it is that you’ve been doing, guess what, it’s working, so keep fucking doing it! You’ve found your grace, so make sure to keep at it!

***

2020…it’s been a shitshow of massive proportions, but that doesn’t mean it’s been all bad. You’ve had wins this year. Big ones. Take the time to celebrate them. Pat yourself on the back and appreciate the good in your life.  

Water Water Everywhere

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

This week starts Street Parking’s 2020 Julian vs. Miranda Challenge. It’s basically a fun challenge/competition that splits Street Parking members who sign up into one of two teams: Team Julian or Team Miranda. Your boy is Team Julian.

Los Gallos, where you at?

You earn points in eight different ways, split between daily points and weekly points. You earn daily points by:

  • Supporting your team
  • Eating veggies
  • Abstaining from alcohol
  • Drinking water (for me, 80 oz/day)

Weekly points are earned by:

  • Logging daily workouts
  • Performing Maintenance workouts
  • Completing Mindset challenges
  • Completing bonus challenges.

This week’s Mindset challenge is a good one. It’s choosing which Daily point will be the most difficult to achieve on an everyday basis, identifying three reasons why I typically fail in achieving it, and three ways I plan on overcoming those reasons.

Well, three of the four daily tasks aren’t that difficult for me. I’m a good rah-rah guy. No issues there. Eating veggies a few times a day has become a habit (though I know I can do better), and I swear I’m abstaining from alcohol more than I’m partaking of it these days.

Water, though..I’ve tried water challenges in the past and have failed miserably every single fucking time. I’ll start off strong, pound water the first day or two, and then watch my commitment completely disappear.

Why? What three reasons hold me back?

1. I’m a coffee fiend.

Before working out in the morning, I’ll have pre-workout. It’s not coffee, but it sure as hell gives you that early morning kick. Then, after working out and starting with breakfast, I’ll have my first actual coffee of the day. About 10 o’clock, I’ll pour myself a second cup. And then around two or three in the afternoon, you know what time it is. That’s right! Coffee break time! Iced. Cold brewed. Hot. Whatever. I just want to inject more coffee into my veins.

It’s not healthy. I know. I’m aware. Doesn’t matter. I like it, and it may the one vice that I allow myself to give into whole hog.

I mean, let’s get this right: Coffee is fucking delicious. Water, my friends, doesn’t compare to the roasted bean. It just doesn’t, and nobody will be able to convince me otherwise.

So, yeah. Coffee. Fiend.

2. It makes me pee. A lot. A whole lot.

All kinds of people report that increased water intake leads to increased focus. For example:

I’m calling complete and 100% bullshit on that. Maybe the next month will prove otherwise, but when I’m into deep work, when I’m focused on my daily to-do list and cranking out chapters or animations, having to leave my desk every 20 minutes for a bathroom break sure doesn’t feel like a way to stay focused.

Instead, it pulls me away from what I’m working on—and continues to do so the rest of the fucking day!

3. I’m just not that thirsty most of the time.

Seriously. I’ll pound water during and immediately after a workout, but if coffee is so damn dehydrating, how come I’m not always wanting to drink more water?

Any time these challenges happen, I feel like I’m back in Marine Corps boot camp with Sgt. McFadder screaming at me to finish my canteen in the next 10 seconds unless I want to spend the next 30 minutes doing burpees in the sand pit.

Force drinking water wasn’t fun then, and it isn’t fun now.

So, how am I going to overcome these roadblocks, these barricades to drinking my 80 oz of water every day? Let’s see.

Solution #1

You probably think I’m going to say that I’m going to cut back on coffee. Nope! Think again, Charlie. Like I said, I fucking love coffee. It’s the nectar of the fucking gods and I deserve to have one fucking vice. (Yes, that’s a lot of F bombs, but I’m pretty passionate about this.)

In other words, I’m going to keep pounding coffee like the government is going to forcibly take it away from me.

So, instead, mornings won’t be exclusively for coffee anymore. I’m now going to drink water alongside my coffee.

New plan in effect

I think it’s a solid plan except for…

Solution #2

Fuck, the peeing thing. Huh. I guess I’m just going to have to deal and hope that my body adjusts to my increased hydration level. According to this Vox article, you can train your body not to pee as much. Sounds iffy, but why not.

And if I continue to pee a lot, I’m going to look at the bright side. Increased trips to the bathroom coincide with an increase in hand washings—and in 2020, that’s not exactly a bad thing, right?

Solution #3

I’m using the Productive app to track a few different habits (working out, journaling, meditation, ukulele practice, and Duolingo practice, just to name a few). I’m adding in drinking water, and putting that fucker on Boost Mode, which basically means my phone is going to scream at me every 30 minutes to drink more water.

Every time I see that reminder pop up? Chug, baby, chug.

***

So that’s it. Check in with me at the beginning of September to see how I did. If I’m not in the bathroom peeing, I’ll let you know.