It was 2011 and the year that would jumpstart my writing. I was in paramedic school, a mid-life career change. I had spent the last decade making high-end furniture and cabinetry and it had been a rollercoaster of a ride so far. Being 40 years old and going back to school for paramedicine when you barely got out of high school was one hell of a learning experience in and of itself. A year of my life given away to learn an insane amount of material, see an insane amount of illness and trauma while existing on an insane amount of caffeine and sleep deprivation.
Two months before graduation and I get the call that I always knew would come. Mom was in the hospital, and knowing what I then knew about medicine, I had to come home. AZ to NJ just in time to say goodbye to her before the years of alcohol and drugs took their toll. Watching her slip away, picking my wife up at the airport, making funeral arrangements and trying to do what I could for my step-dad before I had to go back. All the typical shit. One week and mom is a pile of ashes, step-dad is a pile of regret and sorrow and I’m…me. Mom and I had had a strained relationship for some time, my feelings were easy to bury, but that’s a story for another Flash Challenge.
Two months later, it’s graduation. There was much rejoicing. All I had to do was pass my national certification test and I was a full-fledged paramedic. But I failed the first test. No biggie, it happens and I get more chances. Two weeks later, I’m ready to take it again. My wife tells me on the morning of my exam, that she wants a divorce. (To her credit, she had been away for work and thought I had taken it already.)
I don’t remember taking that exam. I was shattered. Never saw it coming, was still very much in love with her. We had been together 17 years, had a total of 2 fights. Of course they were my fault, I’m an asshole. We were that couple, the one everybody knows was meant to be together. She had reduced me to a shadow with a couple of words. Another story for a different time.
Two weeks later, I was just moving in to the shitty little apartment I’d found, Still in a fog and still delusional that this was a temporary situation. She’d have me back after she realized we were. I know now, that deep down I knew it was over. Denial can carry you pretty far when your legs have given out.
I was just bringing in the last of my boxed life when I got another call. This time it was from my wife. She called to tell me that Bernie had killed himself. One of my best friends had chewed on the barrel of his gun.
I checked out.
That was the last bolt that was keeping my dam intact. When it blew there was the usual explosion of anger and self-hate and the implosion of despair and depression. I went numb pretty quickly. While I hadn’t passed my medic test, I was a certified EMT (not the same, to the surprise of many I meet) and I had just started working overnight on an ambulance. I kept myself from acknowledging a lot of what I was going through by working myself to the bone all night, getting home at the crack of dawn and sleeping until almost sundown. The night had become my friend, my environment matching my internal atmosphere.
People need a support system when they’re at the lowest point of their life. I didn’t have one. My closest friends were thousands of miles away, I had seen them maybe 5 times in the past seven years. I had no friends in Arizona, no family. The family I had back east had been long estranged because of all the usual, unimportant bullshit that we think is so paramount at the time. I couldn’t burden my step-dad with my bullshit, he was still reeling from the death of my mother, practically a shut-in. Though even if I had the support system I so desperately needed, I doubt it would have changed much. I was the kind of kid who would say “No thank you” when my grandparents would ask if I wanted cookies while grocery shopping. I wanted those damn cookies, but I didn’t want them putting out their hard-earned money on me. Didn’t want to burden. That trait continues to this day.
So I dealt with this on my own. I was on an overnight truck, running with the night creatures and getting home at the crack of dawn. Falling into bed to avoid the sun. Avoid thinking. Avoid cracking. I’d get up as the sun was going down, get to the gym and go to work. The gym was my coping mechanism, instead of the classic booze and drugs. A long family history of substance abuse kept me from that road (yet another tale). So I punished myself with exercise. Pushed all that anger and self-loathing into healthy flagellation. Or maybe not-so healthy, judging by the number of times I pushed myself to puking.
It was a functioning life for a while. That repeating lack of sunlight takes it’s toll on the healthiest of minds, and if I had given myself time to really itemize my damage I would have realized that it was pushing me deeper than I knew.
It was over a year of living like that;
It was on one of my days off, and the clearest memory I have of that time, where I had the epiphany that I was rotting from the inside and needed a change. I woke to the sound of construction outside my apartment, and the continuing noise made sleep impossible. I got up and made coffee, went outside to see what was going on. It was one of the first fall days where you actually feel the difference, and living in Arizona, that’s a major difference from what you’ve been dealing with all summer.
The smell of that crisp air, the feeling of an actual breeze and being outside before sundown had a profound effect on me. I realized that this was a different as I had felt in over a year, in any capacity. I didn’t know exactly what I needed, just that I needed something.
And that was enough to get started. One of the first things I did was start writing, and it hasn’t stopped yet.