Me and Anne Frank; Anne Frank and I
This isn’t so much a travel post as it is a personal one, a long one, so if you’re not into that, just change the channel, nothing to see but us chickens. Been sitting on it for a while, and I usually write while listening to music and I'm listening to acoustic Social D singing Angel's Wings while in a cafe in Mexico (which makes sense since they wrote a great song called 1945 and also...Mike Ness...) I'm not sharing it for accolades, but because I've been prompted to and that's enough for me. I’ve been adventuring with some of the most amazing people I could’ve ever wished to come across; they have made the travels just that much better and the pictures will come eventually, but this isn’t one of them. But it is about the year 1945, and this picture from the other night, and a few people who were with me. I kind of wish that no one likes it but just one person messages...that kind of thing.
I don’t share this because it doesn’t define me; building things, imagining things, dreaming things, trying to be a good brother, son, stepson, friend, etc - that all defines me, maybe, or maybe it’s nothing at all, who knows, and that’s fine too. And also I hate talking about yourself...drives me bananas. But the other day a buddy said that I really should share because just in a brief discussion it had helped him make a decision he’d been thinking about for a long while; then another buddy said that you never know who’s listening and if it helps, that’s all that matters, just put it out there. And I’ve heard from a lot of people that I’ve talked with because it always comes up as it’s kind of hard not to notice… “I could do that too. I should.” And maybe they should and maybe they shouldn’t. Not for me to say at all…. But that’s the only reason I’m writing this now. It’s not to boast, doesn’t deserve accolades at all - the opposite even; it’s simply, solamente, to share. I know for a fact there are a lot of guys I know who go home at night and know they need to change something. They can put the face on but the wheels are spinning erratically in the head, and I'm just saying it's possible and it doesn't have to define your life entirely which is the biggest fear.
Almost two years ago now I stopped drinking. Blah blah blah if you don't want to read anymore, don't. Your choice, like everything in life.
There were eight million reasons, all my own fault, but at the time it had come to a head. Work was held together, but the rest of life - anything between, say, 6pm and 6am, was a disaster. I’d started drinking when I was 12 or 13, and I made it to 37 before stopping. That’s 65% of my life I’d spent on the sauce in one form or another. It didn’t help that I worked in bars most of my life, played rugby, banged nails, etc. I wouldn’t change any of that though. I love my friends, still do, and they’ve mostly stuck around, the good ones anyway, but jesus they’re all crazy…no matter the circle. But hey, you make your own path and pick your own friends. I like crazy, and I think a few vices is a good thing and always will - vanilla is boring anyway…
I was very lucky. A lot of people have a particular thing that happens that forces them to stop. I had a hundred things happen, but somehow always skated by… In high school, I was always given the keys to drive home - even before I had a license - and often never remembered making the drive with a car full of people; I’d dumped motorcycles while trying to drive home from work at 3am and then sat seconds later on the side of the road wondering how I was breathing having just seconds before thought “fuck this is it huh?”; totaled a truck on Setucket Rd that I had bought that same afternoon in an effort to make it home from the Woodshed one night after work and somehow didn’t get caught by the police (the bent-over concrete piling is still there…the truck isn’t); woken up one morning to find a warning for speeding through a Cape town on the front seat of my truck - while not remembering being pulled over in the first place after a boy’s night out at Mahoney’s; made a thousand-and-ten bad decisions that would affect everyone around me; gotten stopped drunk in Worcester with enough Class-A drugs in the car that I’d still be in jail (a fact pointed out to me by someone else just a year ago) and then was let go before the state trooper had a chance to open the trunk as a car flew past us doing about 100mph and she took off after them instead; been arrested four or five times before I was 18 in Webster, Oxford, and Worcester and it’s never come back to haunt me otherwise; and really just made a mess of large aspects of life and other’s lives around me. Those are just a few out of hundreds of instances. But I always got lucky. The day heroin came into our circle, I had alcohol poisoning, was curled up on a couch above the bar we all basically lived at, and was too sick to partake - things would’ve been very different. Walking the line, figuratively and literally. My eldest cousin said to me once, “You’ve still done pretty well. Do you ever think about what you could do if you didn’t drink so much?” and at the time I thought “Who the hell are you to say that to me??” But those words have always stuck even though I didn’t tell her that then (I since have) - though they didn’t mean enough to stop at the time. She’s quite a success, a lot smarter than me (than most of you, too, if we’re being honest here…), an amazing inspiration, and her mom had to make her drink wine before leaving for college just so she would know what it was like…so she’s someone to whom you should listen. I didn’t. I was an idiot though. (am…still…)
I was traveling in Iceland two years ago while between house projects, thinking I needed to hit a reset button on life - and that’s the simplest way to say what was happening. I met people there, we all moved together, we all watched the Northern Lights dance across the sky while laying in a field drinking all night after buying almost all the beer from the restaurant at which we’d earlier started drinking. When a few of us ventured out to the glacier lagoon the next morning, some ran across the road to play with the icebergs while I sat near the ocean on the other side, my buddy rambling on a broken foot over the hill, me tucked behind a car, hiding, spewing my guts up from the night before, selfishly thinking about how fucked up my life was at the time and not thinking so much about how I’d probably made a mess of other people’s lives too. I really needed to stop. At the end of that trip, I hopped over to Amsterdam for a few days and continued…because when in Rome. On the last day, in the morning, I went to the Van Gogh museum and cried in front of his painting of the Asylum Garden at Arles (and whatever…you would too…the painting is amazing!…but I was also very hungover…) Then I walked through the city and stood in line for the Anne Franke home. I’m mesmerized by that time period mostly because I still can’t fathom how the entire world let it happen - I really hope we don’t let it happen again. The tour takes about 45 minutes. I spent three hours inside the house, leaning against the walls as groups passed by, lingering around, staring at everything. Upon leaving, I walked up the road and sat outside at a cafe, thinking how very cool and very European it would be to sit at a cafe in a big city square, surrounded by the architecture, smoke a fancy cigarette, have a fancy beer, umbrella blocking the midday sun, and watch everything go by. I got halfway through the beer and started to feel sick at the realization that that was what I had come to think was important in life - sitting at a cafe, in a strange country, completely alone, drinking, in the middle of the day. That’s great for lots of people, and it is awesome, sure, but not then and not for me. I’m not Anthony Bourdain. I pushed the beer to edge of the table, really thought I was going to puke on the sidewalk because I was that sick, and thought to myself “What the fuck…if a 14-year-old girl can go through that, in conditions like that, in that time, with those people, with everything in the world working against her - surely I can fucking stop drinking. It’s not that hard.” I told myself I’d finish the beer and be done. I made it about halfway through, thought I was going to curl up and die not only because I was physically sick but also because I mentally was disgusted with myself, and pushed it aside - a $20 bottle of Belgian craft beer too!! My buddies would kill me for that alone…(sorry Mark and Keith). But that was the last drink. I came home, it was really hard, I was a mess, and then some really amazing people - old friends as well as new - came out of the woodwork and popped up in my life and helped me along the road for a while until I was holding myself up. Angel’s Wings and all that…
That’s the shortest, most-succinct, most bland version there could possibly be of how that time period went. It was a nightmare at first, but you make your own bed, and then you have to lie in it. It’s a lot better now. So, there it is, a brief social-media post. Boom. This could be 10,000 words long, this is 1/10th of what that time was like, and there are a million more details that happened, that pushed me in that direction, that over the course of 25 years I’d known about but had always ignored. But this is long enough already. It doesn’t define me. I thought it would and, so, put off taking the leap for probably a decade too long, maybe longer - how do you go to a wedding, a bachelor party, a Friday night, a first date, how do I tell my uncles??! We’re Irish! But it doesn’t need to define you either if it’s something you’ve thought about doing, and I’m only putting this out there because I’ve met so many people who have said they are, that they need to, that they’re just waiting for one more big event. I was afraid of sharing it because it did define me for so long - working in busy bars, having a construction business, being the oldest male cousin in a huge Irish family, it all goes hand in hand - now it doesn’t, and really, simply, sunrises are a lot more awesome when you’ve slept first, though how do you tell your buddies that and still feel cool? But someone sent me one of those meme things that said “You can’t be afraid of people rejecting you. From now on, people can either accept you for who you are or they can simply fuck off.” And there you go. Everyday’s a school day, and sometimes as eloquent and heartfelt as things can be, you learn that a simple fuck off - even just in thought - can work wonders too.
A few nights ago, myself and two of the best people I could’ve asked to be with went to a small theater in Mexico and watched 8 actors perform a Spanish language production of The Diary of Anne Frank. It was the first time in almost two years I’d really thought about that time again, and I thought it was interesting that just a day or two after someone had told me “You should really share that story…you never know…”, we found ourselves - A German, a Belgian, and an American - in a Spanish city, watching a play in a language we didn’t really understand about a Jewish family in Amsterdam in 1945 that was so much more than just a simple theater production with 20 folding chairs in the audience. I talked to the director after and thanked him and told him this story, and he then told the actors in Spanish. It was emotional. Then we ate the best pizza you could imagine in the loudest bar ever, coincidentally called the Black Dog, and I drank lemonade while the girls had fancy beers and we talked about all the same stuff you'd talk about ten beers deep - and I remembered it all. So I figured that was all a sign…and there you go. Take from it what you will or want or don’t want. It can be - and is - an awesome world if you want it to be. There’s always a way.