Some things hit you out of nowhere, like Little League field lightning or city buses or young lust in the corridors of the mall, and you cannot control them no matter how hard you want to. These are the things that make or break your life I suppose.
They are the biggest baddest 'crossroads' you will ever stand at, really, and you will have to choose whether or not you are going to keep on living and making the best of whatever you've got going on at that moment in time, or if you are ready to let both of your white-knuckled fists just go slack off the wheel at once and just ride off into your sunset ending.
Years ago, when Dale Earnhardt got loose on the final lap of the Daytona 500 and his car seemed to just quit trying anymore, I watched as he slammed into the high wall of the track, my heart throbbing in my chest, my blood sizzling through my veins.
Looking back now, it's still impossible to know if he really got to make much of a choice, I understand that of course. But whatever... part of me, for whatever strange reason, likes to think that he did have that fleeting instant where he knew that things were gonna either shake down as:
a) 'Dale is staying'
b) 'Dale gotta go'
I don't really understand it completely, but whenever I think about that afternoon (and I do a lot, so that's that) I want to think that he took one deep last drag of Florida sunshine, eeked out one last sly grin, and took one look around at the mess that his hard-earned life had suddenly become. I convince myself that he closed his eyes, thought about his kids, knew they'd be okay, and sighed out the final gasp of his Earthly sighs just before his fellow driver and good friend, Kenny Schrader, ran up to the side of that black number 3 Chevy lying still there in the infield grass and saw that it was hopeless, that it was the end of an era.
Of course, experts and doctors and all might tell you otherwise. They might insist that Dale Earnhardt was gone in a flash and that he was already on the bus to whatever the next stop is by the time his car stopped sliding back down the track.
That's cool, but I don't buy it, probably just because I don't want to.
I want to believe, I choose to believe, that you flick off that switch yourself, man. That there is this Dignified Ghost that comes sliding up to your side when you finally make it down those crossroads that you have been searching for, unconsciously, all of these livelong years, and that the Ghost lifts your hand and squeezes it gently three times ( I. Love. You.) so that you know that you can trust it.
Then you see the switch, just like any other switch, but different, obviously.
And just like that you decide. Do I hang around/do I move along?
I have no idea how it feels to make that decision. A lot of people have spent a lot of time down through the years trying to guess what happens in that instant.
But life is full of choices, and we have to trust our gut feeling.
And there you go.
I'm like 5 months away from 42 years old. I've lived longer than a lot of other guys, guys who seemed like they probably deserved a longer run than my fat ass, but what can you do? Hank Williams, Crazy Horse, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Cooke, Kurt Cobain, Stephen Crane, John Coltrane, the list is long and sad.
I've outlived John Lennon. That seems seriously muffed up to me. It seems like it ought to be impossible. But it's possible alright and I've done it.
What does that mean?/What am I saying?
I'm not exactly sure, but I think it means that I seem to be spending a little more time these days thinking about my own ending, you know? About how my tale will write itself out and all.
Like a lot of people, I never did that much before and so nowadays, when I start barking up the Death Tree, trying to get a good whiff of whatever it is I've got cornered up there, it's usually more than I can bear.
That's natural, I guess.
Still, doesn't it really suck to have to think about the fact that three Fridays ago, when you were laughing and having a couple of beers with your wife or your husband and maybe a couple friends and maybe the kids or the dogs were there kicking around in the lush fat tufts of green grass that needs cutting, and the sun was so perfect in the late evening sky hanging out over your town or your beach or wherever the hell you were, doesn't it seem so unfair that all of that seems like it was just six or seven seconds ago?
You were just holding it all in your own two hands, gripping that wheel, steering yourself through such a beautiful kick-off to yet another living weekend; it freaking JUST HAPPENED!
But then again, the reality is that 'no it didn't'.
It's gone and so much living has come to pass since that night; everybody who was there has lived so many moments/made so many choices/cried/laughed/ eaten so many meals since you were just sitting there looking at them right in front of you, holding them close against the heart of your eyeball, feeling their exhales mixing with your inhales, living together.
Life is freaky because it ends. We know so much about so much but we don't know jack shit about forever. We try and tell ourselves that we do, we come up with ways to convince ourselves that we have an idea, but c'mon.
We have no fucking idea at all.
Even our guesses are probably beer league softballs we end up tossing off the edge of a star ten thousand light years in the wrong direction.
If I can make it, if I can hold on like I want to hold on, and if I can keep hording oxygen/avoiding shitty drivers/missing the rattlesnakes along the rivers where I fish/ hitting the treadmill/staying off the cigs/watching how many beers I drink/eating my vegetables/ and luck out in the ticker department and the cancer department and this department and that department/blah-blah-blah; if I can just hang in there for another 13 or 14 years I might just have the chance to live through something I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd get to live through.
I might just get to live with three of my own teenagers at once.
Three teenagers at once. (Violet 18, Henry 16, 'Newbie' 13)
My God. I know you probably don't really care too much but c'mon, this is a jaw-dropping realization for me. It's like this huge invitation to live someone else's life in some super strange way. But it would be mine, my life. It would be my life...it will be my life if I can find a way to dodge some bullets and outrun some hyenas.
Lately, something has come over me. Or someone.
It's been like some hard-headed son-of-a-bitch just barreled into this little world of mine, a world that only me and like three other people even give two shits about, and he jacked me up by the collar of my George Jones t-shirt and slammed me into the barnwood wall of the bar I created in my mudroom. And grabbing my shaking fist in his cold steady fist and holding it up against the wall, next to the light switch, he stared into my mixed-up soul with his bloodshot eyes and cackled out a Jack Nicholson laugh , the world melting away from me, my heart bursting with fear as he pulls the whole runaway train back onto the tracks with three firm/hard squeezes.
Or maybe it's a she. There's just no way to tell yet.
But the squeezes are undeniable.
I. Love. You.
Then he/she picks me up by the scruff of my neck and tosses me back into the living room where Violet and Henry are climbing all over Monica, who is sitting there on the couch trying to hold back the First Trimester pukes with a sandwich baggie full of Jolly ranchers and I land down beside them all with a soft leathery thud.
I look around, no one even notices my ass is in the room, but I am as far from that switch as I could ever hope to be.
And I'll take it.