I Don’t Wanna Live No More…

I could relate to that song really well when I was sleeping on wooden crates and scavenging on the scraps of Wal-Mart rotisserie chickens passed for actual meals.

Don’t worry, it got worse from there.

My “rock bottom” moment occurred over the course of a couple of chilly days in December of 2007. That June, I had moved from Sumter, SC to Houston with four of my friends on two days notice without telling my family, roommate, or even my live-in girlfriend at the time (well, I told my girl and roommate that I was going to Houston for a week or two.). This was two years removed from blowing my scholarship at Rutgers and being unceremoniously shipped back to Sumter from New Jersey via Greyhound, so I was essentially the black sheep of my family. I would’ve preferred to be anywhere on the planet besides near my family at the time, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in Sumter forever, especially after being able to escape ever briefly.

It wasn’t going well. The car that we used to move eventually broke down, and our patience with each other was breaking along with it. Our initial living arrangement was a one bedroom, 500 sq. ft apartment that was supposed to fit six grown adults (us five and the apartment’s owner), so we were probably doomed to resent each from the start. After several altercations with neighbors, police and each other, the owner of the apartment decided that it was best for everyone to part ways. He made that known with his pistol.

I started a stint as a seasonal employee for Target at the time, and I was approved for my own apartment, but I needed money for the deposit, there was a three week gap before getting my first check, and I needed shelter until then. The night of being kicked out, I contacted my childhood best friend, who lived on the other side of town at the time, and asked if she would let me stay with her until I could move into my apartment. She agreed, so I packed all of my worldly possessions, which fit into one piece of luggage, and anxiously waited for her to pick me up.

She was supposed to arrive at 7:00 pm, so I waited outside of the apartment complex at 6:00, in hopes of not missing her in the event that she arrived early.

6:15 came.

Then 6:30.

Then 6:45.

Nothing.

I texted her to ensure that she was still coming. Nothing.

7:00 came and passed without any signs of her.

I called her. Then called again. Then called again. Then cursed a bunch. Then called again. Nothing.

7:15 came, but she didn’t. It was fairly cold (especially for Houston’s standards), and I didn’t own a coat, so the hunt for shelter was becoming increasingly important, and I was starting to worry that something really bad happened to my best friend, since she’s never late for anything.

At 7:30, a red SUV pulled up to the complex, but it wasn’t my best friend. It was a lady that I had only previously spoken to in passing, checking if I was alright, since I was standing by myself with nothing but luggage. I told her that I was fine, but needed to warm up in her car until my ride came.

At 7:34, I received a text. It was from my best friend. It said the following:

“I’m not coming to get you and you can’t stay with me. I’m sorry, but this whole situation is too weird and I think that you and my ex are up to something sneaky (her ex was the one who owned the apartment), so I can’t trust you.”

Alright then.

As much as I would’ve enjoyed cursing out my best friend until I lost my voice, I still had the pressing issue of finding somewhere to sleep with no money for that night, God forbid trying to figure out a solution for the next 20 days. Miraculously, the lady with the SUV had a voucher for a local hotel, and she agreed to let me use it then drop me off at a homeless shelter the following morning.

For those fortunate enough to not know the process of staying at a homeless shelter, it’s not as easy as going in and out of a building at leisure. You have to fill out an application similar to the one you would use for a job or a regular apartment. The main difference in this application was that the “address” portion was helpfully filled out for you. It said, simply, HOMELESS.

As I was filling out this lovely and not dehumanizing application, I got a phone call. It was from my best friend. She called to let me know that I was exaggerating my situation and that I had some sort of ulterior motive in mind that involved her ex, while I’m still processing the fact that my official address was now HOMELESS. When I assured her that my situation was indeed this dire, she asked why I didn’t just go back home. “You tried your best, Shawn. It didn’t work out. Just go back to Sumter. Give up. What are you even doing out here?” (spoiler: rock bottom) At that point, I would’ve silently starved to death in an alleyway with a dirty syringe in my arm and deemed it a preferable fate to going back home with my tail between my legs because I was too much of a fuck up to survive without them for five months.

I couldn’t stay at the shelter because I would only be able to reserve a bed at 6:30 pm, and that conflicted with my work schedule, which was from 3:30-10:30. I decided to have the nice lady with SUV drop me off in the exact spot she found me 16 hours earlier. Nowhere else to go from here. Time to sink or swim.

Fast forward about eight years to last night, and my most severe form of stress stress (outside of wife/unborn child/etc.) came from hosting a successful Taco Tuesday for my squadron somewhere in Central America. It would have felt like the end of the world as I knew it if nobody came out for it on consecutive weeks. I would’ve felt like I could relate to that song all over again. I guess everything is relative.

Where the Hell did Summer Go?

I wore a hoodie while it was 70 degrees outside today because I’m a shell of my former east coast self. It’s officially happened. I’ve become a SoCal valley girl. My east coast friends would be ashamed of me. Maybe my real spirit animal was Hilary from Fresh Prince all along.

In terms of the weather, “summer” won’t change much here. I’ll be able to go to the pool year around, with the exception of a few weeks in January. But calendar wise, I was just complaining about having to work on Memorial Day the last time I blinked. What the hell happened? I didn’t really realize that summer already came and went until I saw the deluge of “First Day of School” statuses on my Facebook feed. All of a sudden, Labor Day is next week and most regular people are prepping for school and changes in the weather and I just feel totally disconnected with everything these days. I’m sure there’s a middle ground between not having any idea what’s going on outside of my bubble (work, school, wife, core friends, books) and being way too involved in the minutia of hundreds of acquaintances and strangers, but I’m not interested in finding it.

Whatever I’m doing now is making the time fly, so I can’t complain too much. My old duty station (Travis AFB) stresses the 100 Days of Summer theme as a way to increase safety awareness and all kinds of other regulatory military stuff, but what it really does is underscore how short summer essentially is. 100 days? That’s nothing. But at the same time, it can be everything. I wasn’t a father to be 100 days ago. I had no clue how I would ever stop smoking 100 days ago (for the record, I have no idea how the hell I stopped. It just happened. I don’t know. I don’t even wanna know. I’m just grateful.). Finishing school still felt like it was miles away. I thought I would never escape a phone call with Rachel without her bawling 100 days ago.

You just live day to day and you blink and three months have passed and you’re complaining about Macy’s not even waiting until Halloween to start playing their fucking Christmas music. I wonder if parenthood is like that. One day you’re wondering how someone so small can produce such a massive amount of poop, then the next time you pay attention, you’re seeing them off on their first day of school while you’re in denial about that single gray hair in your goatee. I think that’s why I wanted to write this stuff down. If I can’t slow anything down, the least I can do is frame it so I don’t forget about how crazy everything is right now. How does everything and nothing change at the same time?

OMG, A REAL LIFE ULTRASOUND!

What do I do now? My wife has another human being growing inside her. I obviously know that she’s been pregnant for some time (nine weeks to be exact), but it didn’t quite real until today. It’s one thing to hear that you have a child on the way, but it’s totally something else to be shown this little thing the size of an olive that’s supposed to grow into an entire human that I’ll be responsible for.

Have you guys ever thought about how wild pregnancy is? Like, the whole process of a woman creating another human being from nothing? It’s really insane. The baby already has little arms and legs and I don’t know what to make of any of this, to be honest. I can’t even articulate how I feel. It’s some combination of bliss, fear, paranoia and disbelief. The whole process is just overwhelming. I wonder if it ever goes away and I’ll turn into a normal human again.

Rachel wanted to Skype the appointment with me, but I was stuck at work. I was better off not seeing everything live though. I would’ve been a mess. I’m still a mess 11 hours later, but at least I can peacefully write about it here instead of cursing at doctors and/or crying in front of the people I work with. That’d be lame.

The appointment itself was uneventful, fortunately. There weren’t any complications and the baby is growing faster than normal and we can hear the heartbeat and oh my God I’m gonna be a real life father, you guys. I have a feeling that we’re having a daughter, so I’ve hired a really good architect to design a high quality dungeon for her the moment she reaches puberty. It’ll have wi-fi and and windows so she can actually see sunlight and everything. She’ll love it. Lord help me. Is it corny to have a picture of the ultrasound framed? Probably. I don’t give a shit.

arguing-couple

Stop Mistaking Constant Fighting With a Normal, Healthy Relationship

My wife cursed me out Sunday morning. Being cursed out isn’t fun, but I think I earned it. It started with a phone call late Saturday night. Prior to the call, I had gone to a bar and buried myself in Jack Daniels Single Barrel (delicious stuff, by the way), so I wasn’t exactly in my right mind. Anyway, Rachel suggests that we cancel a trip that we planned in order to save money for the baby. Reasonable, I suppose. I replied by telling her that she’s overreacting about any future money issues and hanging up on her. I totally planned on calling her back after using the bathroom. I did not call her back after using the bathroom. I passed out and woke up to the aforementioned fire and brimstone. After about two hours of doing a great impression of a dog with his tail between his legs, we calmly talked everything over like the normal humans we are and we were back to ourselves soon thereafter.

This isn’t a normal occurrence. We fight about once every 5-6 weeks. I can count on one hand how many times we’ve been mad at each other overnight. It’s been, by far, the most peaceful relationship I’ve ever had. It’s a constructive, loving relationship, and it’s totally fucking foreign to me.

I used to live by the adage of, “if she’s not always upset at you, she doesn’t really love you (or she’s ready to break up or she’s cheating with a real man or something else stupid),” and my previous relationships followed suit. My former girlfriends and I were always arguing with each other, always yelling about something inconsequential to the big picture. And I thought that’s what love was. My aunt always yelled at me when I was younger, and I carried that over into my relationships. Until fairly recently, I truly didn’t think that a relationship was “real” unless there was constant drama or negativity involved.

arguing-couple

Well, that viewpoint was bullshit. And poison, mentally and emotionally. If you are constantly fighting with your significant other, then something is wrong. That isn’t normal. It drains you and kills you slowly. Your lifeforce is slowly sucked away from you, and the only solace you can find is when you’re as far away from her as humanly possible. Yet, many people persist in those relationships because that’s what they think love is. Hell, I sure did.  Thought it was a badge of honor to stick with this one girl no matter how miserable she made me because that’s what real love is and that’s what real men do. There’s a reason I used to smoke so many cigarettes. I was basically eroding inside.

And it’s not like Rachel and I agree on everything. We’ve had a bunch of heavy conversations that involved politics, religion, family, money, friends of the opposite sex, and everything else that evoke the worst from otherwise rational human beings. You know what we do? We talk. And talk. And talk some more. We even listen to each other occasionally.

We rarely, if ever, devolve into screaming matches. And while it was some sort of miracle for me to actually disagree with someone I love without it turning into an argument, she said that she just took it for granted as being normal. I patiently waited for the other shoe to drop, for her to stop this facade during our honeymoon phase and turn into the crazy (but my version of normal) women that I dealt with in my past, but it never happened. It still hasn’t. With time, and a lot of reassurance, I eventually realized that it is normal too. That’s how human beings who care about each other are supposed to communicate.

I’m not an advice guy. I have no clue about the lives of strangers, so telling them ways to solve their problems, especially without context, seems disingenuous at best. But please listen. If your significant other is a source of your stress more often than a source of joy, leave. Quickly. It doesn’t get better. It doesn’t magically stop. You just die slowly. Don’t die on me. I need you to read my stuff. Finding someone who constantly makes you happy isn’t a miracle. It’s normal. But Rachel’s a miracle.

How I’d Change the School System

The school system as currently constructed is terrible and only works for me personally because I’m good at standardized tests that are biased against me. I rarely learned anything substantial there, and the vast majority of my secondary education was a waste of time. I’ve had the goal of opening a school for underserved children for some time and I thought about what I would teach them, but I never committed to put my plan on paper until recently. My last class assignment asked me to give details of how my ideal school would look, and although I couldn’t really get in depth with my vision (I won’t complain about only having to write 750 words, but how am I supposed to really get going with this topic?), I think that the following is a pretty good skeleton for how I would like to design my school:

Ideally, my school would serve children from kindergarten through 8th grade. I would prefer to teach that age group, as opposed to high schoolers because teaching them these ideas early in life gives them a better chance to be molded. I would also like to primarily cater to children from underserved communities, which are disproportionately Black and Latino.  I would also have the school being low cost (specifically a small percentage of their income) so those families can afford it. Underserved communities are especially important to reach because they are constantly marginalized by the world around them, and that damages their psyches in unquantifiable ways over the course of a lifetime. Being able to fight that constant marginalization they receive from their environment on a daily basis would be invaluable to them. I think that the attitude of our current school system reflects the attitude of our nation, namely that it is clearly catered to White men, and although they now welcome all different colors and creeds, they are in no rush to cater to them. I would teach them about their own history and read them literature from their own, Black and Latino, people. I think this is important because it gives a sense that those people are important in the same way that most people think that Shakespeare is important, since his works are universally taught at public schools. Creating a school that is focused on the needs of underserved children would protect them from being marginalized even further by the educational system as is.

Although I understand the importance of testing and other assessments of knowledge retention, I think the concept of creating ideas is even more vital for children and adults alike. I would create this sort of creative environment by encouraging them to constantly ask questions and teaching them how to approach and solve difficult problems. I would also organize business and marketing contests for the children, which would encourage them to use their massive imaginations to create and execute an innovative plan at an early age. I would also ideally give them time and daily opportunities to just think of different ideas, since I believe that the brain is a muscle that needs constant exercise like any other part of the body. I would ensure that the classes were small, so students would not only get specialized attention intellectually, but emotionally as well.

I would make the environment as fun as possible, since everyone learns and retains more when they’re having fun, and children are no exception. I would make the classrooms very tech friendly, since the world isn’t going backwards in terms of advancing. I would also put a heavy emphasis on physical activity and learning in places other than the classroom. I would give as many chances as possible to encourage hands-on learning, since that’s a great way to retain information that is often underutilized. I would discourage conventional lectures where the teacher talks at the students for an entire class while the students are expected to take notes silently. From personal experience, not only did that make my experience miserable, but I didn’t actually learn anything with that method. It literally provided no benefit except, perhaps, for the teacher to feel like he was truly in charge. Another necessity for my ideal school is the ability to give children a chance to explore creative passions, whether it’s music, arts, sports or academia. I think that the children knowing that their passions are embraced and encouraged will create an environment that is conducive to learning and personal  growth.

What do you guys think? Am I missing important parts? Are there already people working on these types of schools?I feel like this would be my small contribution to the world, so I’d really like to get it right.

Flashback: When I Almost Ended My Career Being an Idiot

My troop got promoted to Staff Sergeant last week! He played it pretty cool in public, but he was absolutely geeked about it, and I’m geeked for him. For those who are reading this for the first time or unfamiliar with me in general, I’m a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force. The process, which involves a combination of standardized testing, annual job appraisals and good old seniority, is fairly pressurized,  and they publicly post the results of who got promoted from everyone who tested, basically reducing a bunch of military professionals to children trying to see if they made their high school varsity team.

The road to my rank and being responsible and not despised by my peers was arduous, and the time that I spent between earning the rank, losing it, and regaining it symbolized the direction in which my life was going. I can honestly say that I wasn’t ready for the jump in responsibility the first time I made it, not because of hindsight being 20/20 or God having a special plan for me, but because I was still speeding and driving drunk regularly. I was a fucking moron. Granted, I was a moron who tested well and could really use the extra money at the time, but a moron nonetheless. I was blowing tons of money, not taking school seriously and doing all kinds of other stupid things people do in their mid-20s. The knowledge that I was getting promoted combined with potentially leaving for Japan within the next few months basically ensured that I gave zero fucks about anything unless something drastic happened. Naturally, I lost my rank in one of the dumbest ways possible.

During Labor Day 2012, I drove to the front gate with my friend after a long night at the club. Normally, the guard checks the ID card for a brief moment then allows us to drive on base. Unfortunately, the car reeked of liquor, so instead of us being allowed to go home, we found ourselves being suspected for DUI. Hilariously enough, that was not what got me in trouble. I misplaced my driver’s license a few months prior to that night and never got it replaced because, well, I still don’t know why. On previous brushes with the police, I was able to give my license number from memory and give some bullshit excuse about how I left my license in the room. So sure enough, when the guard asked for my license/registration/insurance,  I was ready to spout off my routine again. Only this time, my license number wouldn’t appear in their system. I say the license number again. Nothing. Once more, nothing.

The cop suddenly remembered the reason he stopped me in the first place: he thinks I’m driving drunk. He had me undergo a sobriety test, which, I’m ashamed to say now, I was quite well versed at passing while being intoxicated. There’s something about being a black guy dealing with cops, along with my career being on the line, that sobers me very, very quickly. The first round of tests involved him shining a light into my eye and telling me to follow it. I passed, or at least I assumed so, because I haven’t been asked to exit the car. The next, and more difficult test, was to say the alphabet backwards. I took a deep breath…”Z-Y-X-V-shit I’m kidding-W-V-U-uhhhhh….-T-S….” He stops me at “L.” Suspicion of DUI over. Crisis averted, at least for now.

There’s still the matter of my license not existing in their system. After going back and forth with the cop about how I’m not actually an unlicensed driver, I had a decision to make: either come clean about losing my license and accepting my relative slap on the wrist, or bluff and tell him that my license was in my dorm room, hoping that I get off completely unscathed. I choose Option 2. He called my bluff in the worst way possible. He demanded to follow me to my room and stay there until I found my license. It was such an autopilot response that I didn’t even think about the fact that I DIDN’T EVEN LIVE IN THE DORMS ANYMORE. My actual residence was 20 miles away. In short, I am fucked. My friend is now awake in the passenger seat. He asks why there are cop lights following us. I tell him why. His response? “You’re fucked.” Thanks, friend.

In a last ditch effort to avoid coming clean, I “searched” for my license in another friend’s room, under the pretense that it was mine. I didn’t know what I was going to accomplish at this point. It was the equivalent of a hail mary being thrown backwards. My plot was blown after the cop searched the room and found an ID of the person the room actually belonged to. Now I’m in handcuffs. My friends, who have now all congregated to witness the lowest point of my career, have resorted to using thesauruses to find new ways to call me stupid. I head to the police station on base, get fingerprinted, give my official statement (go me for not having a lawyer present at the time) and get escorted to the 8′ x 12′ holding cell where I would spend the rest of the night. For a final nail in my emotional coffin, the cop who arrested me relayed a message as I incoherently rotted on the cot in my cell: my driver’s license was finally found in the system, and it was clean. What happened? “You missed the number by one digit. You said it was ‘*****384,’ but it was ‘*****385.’ Good night!”

I got “bailed out” by my First Sergeant the next morning, and after confirming that yes, I was indeed fucked, I finally got released to be on my way. I went to my friend’s house on base to charge my phone. The first message I see? My girlfriend at the time saying that she doesn’t want to be my girlfriend anymore. Yep. I thought my life was over.

The Duggars and Glass Houses

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy reading about Josh Duggar getting caught in the crossfire of the massive Ashley Madison leak (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, the link is here). I have no problem with people’s personal beliefs (although the Duggar’s beliefs are archaic, sexist, homophobic, exploitive and abusive on multiple levels) and I have no problem with people expressing their beliefs publicly, but what I don’t enjoy hearing is how everyone’s viewpoint is wrong except for theirs. This goes for everything, whether it’s something as simple as your favorite player or sport, or something not so simple, like your belief system and how it influences the way you see a planet of human beings.

There are a litany of opinions where Josh Duggar and I wouldn’t see eye to eye. Probably too many to list here. But the difference between us is that I’d shrug and say, “that’s how he chooses to live his life,” while he’d say, “that heathen is going to burn in hell and I’m going to love it hahahahahaha!” I’m not a fan of that. There are varying degrees of that mindset on every social media outlet available. Someone gives out an opinion that goes against the common grain, and they get hung at the proverbial twitter stake and people say all kinds of terrible things to and/or about them because everyone on that site is supposed to have the same ideals or something.

You know the best reason to at least feign some empathy for views that are different from yours? Because that lack of empathy creates enemies. Quickly. Those enemies will literally look for anything to pick you apart, especially if your views are accompanied with a moral or spiritual high horse. Basically, if you’re going to be publicly pious, you’d better be squeaky clean too. And man, Josh Duggar is pretty far from squeaky clean. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to explain away fondling your own sisters as a youth and getting people to accept it somehow (a pretty incredible feat), but how do you explain being on (and paying for) a site that is expressly made for cheating on your wife? There isn’t even any plausible deniability there. You can at least say that someone hacked your Twitter account. Or maybe you were being fake flirty with an old friend in a Facebook message. Either way, I’m pretty sure that people would not have combed over 3 million profiles looking for his specific name if, you know, he wasn’t such a prick about his beliefs.

And in a way, I get it. People need likes and retweets and comments and validation and all kinds of other stuff so their content spreads. Being polarizing or shocking is the fastest path there, by a mile. Having a nuanced view on much of anything online will get you nods that you’ll never see and not much else. Part of the reason those people have a reality show in the first place is because people mistake boorishness, ignorance and intolerance with “showing conviction in their beliefs.” And if you’re already down that road, you might as well double down. And you know what happens? People get behind them, regardless of how dead wrong they may be. The Duggar diehards will justify him actively trying to cheat on his wife for two years just like they justified the incest that he tried to commit as a teenager.

I can’t believe that I even got sucked into focusing on a Mormon family with 19 kids. They have 19 kids. They suckered a nation of human beings to expect rational beliefs from a pair of humans who spawned 19 more of themselves and thought it was okay. They’re crazy. We’re crazy for devoting this much attention to them.