So, We’re Having a Boy

I should’ve known. Of course we’re having a boy. All of the unofficial signs (carrying high, glowing, etc.) pointed to Rachel having a boy, but I held out hope for a girl until the bitter end. And for about 5 minutes, we thought we actually were having a girl…

So I’m on Skype watching Rachel and her parents during her ultrasound, which was pretty mundane in of itself, at least initially. There’s nothing truly notable about seeing your in-laws read trashy magazines and crack jokes in a waiting room or Rachel complaining about having to pee since that’s all pregnant women ever want to do. But it meant a lot to me. For the first time of Rachel’s pregnancy, I felt like I was actually there for her. I mean, we talk daily and I make sure that she has what she needs, but I’m never actually there for her. As in, present for what she’s going through, whether good or bad. On Tuesday, I felt present. That was important.

Rachel and her parents walked into the doctor’s office and the doctor hooked her up to whatever machine produces the ultrasound. The doc went through labeling the different body parts (“there’s the head,” “oh look, there’s a leg right there,” “look at the size of those eye sockets!”), seemingly building up the suspense for the gender reveal intentionally. After a question about whether we wanted to know the gender was answered affirmatively (I specifically said, “Hell yeah, man. Shit.”), the moment was finally here. Those 15 seconds or so that followed felt like hours. Then the doc spoke…

“It looks like you’re having a girl.”

Me: “Wait, what?”

Rachel: “Really???”

Doc: “Yup. A girl.”

Me: “WOWWWWWWWWWW!!!! I TOLD YOU!!! I KNEW IT I KNEW IT I KNEW IT HAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHA!!!!!”

Rachel: “Wow. Wow. *exhales deeply* This is insane. We’re really having a girl.”

It was at this moment that my mother-in-law asked what seemed to be an incredulous question. “Are you really sure that they’re having a girl?” My father-in-law responded, naturally, with a sarcastic remark about the doctor not being sure since she doesn’t do this for a living or anything. I stayed quiet, but I was with pops-in-law on this one. But sure enough, she convinced the doc to give our fetus one last look. And sure enough, the lack of confidence in her initial prognosis started to show, which instantly changed the energy in the room, replacing euphoria with an amount of tension normally reserved for a cancer prognosis, a change that I easily felt through the computer.

Doc: “You know, maybe I should get a second opinion on this.”

Rachel: *deep sigh*

Me: “Oh lord…”

Dad-in-law: “I think I just saw a penis!”

Me: “How in the world…..”

Rachel: “I can’t believe this.”

The second doctor came in, and like pops-in-law suspected, we were indeed having a boy, and it was “quite obvious” that it was a boy. So there it was.

I know there’s a strong implication that having a boy disappointed me in that story. I should plainly state that that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was more the giant swing in emotion and genuine anger at the initial doctor that caused my subdued response than anything else. After spending my entire adulthood thinking that having a daughter is a curse, then transitioning to no longer thinking that it would be the worst thing in the world, to actually thinking that I would enjoy it occasionally, I started actively hoping for a little girl. It was more of a novel idea (when I say novel, I would’ve sooner jumped into a snake pit than raise a daughter as recently as 5 months ago) than anything else. I just happened to heavily invest into that novel idea in a short time.

But man, I’m about 20 weeks away from raising a mini version of myself. Rachel has already declared that we’ll dress alike as often as possible, which will ensure our place in Facebook’s most sickening families, and is already proposing terribly inefficient purchases, like an infant leather jacket that will look adorable for the three weeks that he’ll be able to fit into it. There will be a basketball waiting for him upon his exit from the womb. And books. Lots of books. And wait. Is it already Halloween? Holy shit.

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The State of My Former Besties

My previous visit to South Carolina, which was May 2014, was strictly supposed to be a “business” trip. Stewart, one of my best friends, was getting married to his girlfriend of a decade, and I made good on the promise that I would attend if such a event ever happened (I honestly thought it would never happen). While I was out there, I figured that I would indulge Rachel in letting her meet my family. Despite my relationship with them back then (there weren’t good feelings) and the fact that I hadn’t seen or talked to them in 8 years, I felt that it would be polite to at least show them what my future wife looked like. It’s not like I cared for their approval; if they said anything negative about her, especially the giant elephant in the room about my fiancee not being black, I’d simply leave and never talk to them again. But something felt wrong about marrying someone before meeting a single member of their family, and I knew doing that would give her some peace of mind, regardless of the outcome.

Rachel and I stayed in a hotel on the other side of town, hoping to avoid contact with the family outside of the bare minimum. She was really excited about eating at Waffle House, which I suppose is as much of a regional culinary monument in the southeast as Roscoe’s is in California. Unfortunately, the difference between the two restaurants is that Waffle House sucks, and although I already knew that, Rachel insisted on finding out the hard way.

Outside of the wedding, she gave me the freedom to come and go as I pleased, as long as I introduced her to the people who I was visiting first. So the very first place we visited was Trey’s house, and we passed my family’s house en route as if it never existed. Trey’s dad greeted us enthusiastically (he specifically said, “I would’ve bet the farm that you were never coming back here!”), but something was off. That “something” was his left leg. Diabetes had claimed half of his leg recently, and the tenor of the entire household was just off in general. Trey and Bill were there, and there was obviously tension between the parents and my two former best friends. It didn’t take long after the requisite pleasantries for Trey’s mother, never one to hold her tongue, to reveal the source of their tension.

Neither Trey nor Bill (who wasn’t related, but like me, was treated like family from our early teens) were really doing much of…anything. After life in Houston fell off the rails, Trey and Bill opted to return to Sumter while I enlisted in the Air Force. Apparently, they took their negative habits along with them. They were basically doing the same things at age 27 as they were at age 22, something that I consciously tried to avoid.

I guess that one of the benefits of being on terrible terms with my family during a drastic decision was that I had no illusion of a safety net in the event of failure. Both Trey and Bill come from cohesive, supportive families who graciously accepted them after the move to Houston didn’t pan out. And while that is a very nice luxury, I think that it also created a barrier to how far they would truly strive to carve out a niche for themselves elsewhere. It’s difficult to give everything you have in a seemingly hopeless situation (and Houston got really, really bad for all of us) when you’re still in touch with your family and they’re begging you to come back for a fresh start and they’re wondering why your pride is keeping you from doing what’s best for your family in the first place. It’s really easy to fold your tent and say, “Hey, I can go back home for a bit, get a job, save money for a few months, then go on a new adventure.” Then boom, five years pass and you haven’t made any real progress towards your goals. I didn’t talk to them during this period of time, but that’s my best guess as to what happened.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, and they both seem radically different, not only in terms of progress, but in terms of mindset as well. Trey bought a house on the other side of town and has a stable job with a wife and a brilliant, brilliant 3 year old daughter. Talking to him, as he casually solved a Rubik’s cube in 3 minutes (?!?!?!?!??!?!), I got the sense that he finally settled down and had his head in the right place. His daughter is light years ahead of any 3 year old I’ve seen mentally, and that is almost never an accident. That’s a product of consciously productive, targeted parenting, and I was beyond proud to see that he was taking his job as a husband and father seriously. He said that he had plans of joining the military after he cleared up his tickets, and while that isn’t a bad idea, I would like for him to aim higher than that long term. The question I kept asking him was, “So when are you gonna change the world?” He’s seriously one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but he suffers from having so many gifts that he can’t seriously hone in on the one or two that can truly be life changing for himself and others. That admittedly nitpicky complaint aside, I couldn’t be happier for him, since I’m well aware of how much he’s been through and how easily he could have fallen off the proverbial cliff.

Bill, on the other hand, had actually fallen off that cliff, but grabbed on to a rock on the way down and is gradually climbing his way to the ledge again. A cocktail of drugs and a very toxic relationship led to jail time for a crime involving burglary, child endangerment, and a slow motion car chase. From everything I’ve heard, his life had only gone downhill from there lately. I didn’t even expect to speak to him, much less see him,  after a conversation with his parents led me to believe that he was in a rehab facility in North Carolina. I wondered to myself how bad he could have possibly gotten, but I stopped myself from asking his parents, sensing that it was still a sore spot for them. The next morning, I received a panicked phone call from Bill’s mom. She told me that he had surprised everyone by coming back in town for her 70th birthday party. After talking to him for several hours, it seemed like he was heading in the right direction as well. He had been drug free (even weed) for the last five months, and was taking advantage of the extensive flood cleanup by finding local jobs in the area in the hopes that someone would hire him full-time. His experiences in various drug treatment facilities led him to pursue a new goal, which was to get a degree in counseling and open a facility to help addicts, using the ideas that he gathered from his checkered past. He, like Trey, is still exceptionally gifted, and I was encouraged that he was developing a laser focus towards a particular goal.

Really, general well-being aside, all of the particulars about those two are secondary. For the first time in forever, we got to just hang out and do nothing in particular. We drank, traded all kinds of stories (the wildest of which being Bill’s three week fling with crack), and just…felt normal. The same way we did during our good and bad times in Houston. Or when we first started bonding in high school. Or when they were the only people to really embrace me after I let everyone down by getting kicked out of Rutgers. Regardless of what happens to the three of us from here, I think that we have a bond that time and distance will find really difficult to break, and I’ll always root for them now and in the future.

(Names have been changed. They won’t care. They’ll read this and ask to fight me. Whatever. Still love them.)

I Needed to Go Back Home

I was pretty sure that this was the worst decision I ever made when I was waiting idly in Charleston’s airport, feeling stupefied about not being able to rent a car in the entire city due to the flooding. Five separate car rental companies, and they unanimously said there was nothing available. Now what? No way I took a week of vacation just to not get within an hour of the people who needed me most, right? Yet there I was, charging my phone while sitting in the rock hard seats near the baggage claim, wondering how my uncle would be able to find me, if a way was even  plausible at the time. A large stretch of I-95 was shut down due to the storm, so my uncle finding an alternate route to pick me up was an adventure in of itself, never mind that it was already 9pm and he’s felt the ravages of nearly 70 years of life. There’s no way I could reasonably expect him, or anyone for that matter, to pick me up from that distance on such short notice. Yet when I called, sheepishly explaining my plight, he insisted that a checking into a hotel wouldn’t be necessary, since he would be there as soon as he could. Our first extended contact in a decade, and I’m impelling him to make a 5 hour round trip drive in the aftermath of historic flooding. I never said I was a perfect child.

Over the course of the week, when I wasn’t cleaning around the area, I found myself turning into the 24 year old version of myself. I was eating like crap (literally had Zaxby’s daily with no regrets), not lifting weights, staying up until 5am, not doing homework or anything else remotely constructive until the last minute, and just…generally being lazy. And you know? It felt good. It really did. I kinda understood how people could get stuck in that mode, especially when weed and alcohol are involved. I also realized that if I didn’t take that idiotic 22 hour, drive to Houston on two days notice, I could very possibly be in that same position today. I could very well be grinding day to day in a factory without any way to go to school or any way to escape it. And that’s not to say the people there are uneducated failures either. One of my old friends was finishing up his Master’s degree, and he’s doing customer service at Sprint. The quality jobs for non-professionals just aren’t there, and while it’s easy to tell those people to just move to a better place…that’s fucking scary. It wasn’t scary for me, but that’s because I’m a moron. It’s terrifying for most normal, rational humans to break away from everything they know for something that might not even work, and even if the current situation is suboptimal, it’s something. It’s a concept that I understand a lot better now than I did at age 25.

But having the opportunity to be lazy again wasn’t the reason I need to go back. I just needed to make peace. With everyone. My uncle and cousin laughed and joked with me for the entirety of that terribly unpleasant drive back to Sumter. And my aunt and I were finally peaceful. We just talked and joked and did normal things that mothers and older sons do. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time that we’ve spent an entire week together without her yelling at me. That isn’t even satire. She literally yelled at me for something every single day for the five years I went to school there. I lived in misery, and to a degree, so did she. It was so shocking for us to be “normal.”

It also helped that people who I have seen or even contacted in a decade told me that they didn’t blame me for leaving, even if I could have done it in a better way. I figured that I would have to explain what was going on all those years ago, but they said that it was unnecessary. They knew that I was unhappy, even if I never actually said so at the time. A change of scenery was the best thing for me, and they hoped that I escaped my personal hell back then.

It took a while to get back to my normal self, whatever the hell this version of “normal” is (which explains my lack of posts lately), but I knew that I could only stay in a state of stasis for so long. I’ve grown too much in these last few years. I always have to be doing something, anything to keep my mind busy. But a few days of breaking my routine was a small price to pay for what I received in return.

Honestly, it felt like I left Sumter a whole person, which is something that I thought would never happen as recently as 20 months ago. I hugged my aunt, uncle and cousin, but it didn’t seem final. It felt much more like a  “see you later” goodbye instead of a “it was fun while it lasted” goodbye. And I agreed. I can finally go home again. It’s cool.

On Going Back Home

There was a time where I promised myself that I would never return here, no matter what. I was the black sheep here. Too many bad memories. Nothing and no one I can think back on fondly. It’s boring. I lost touch with 99% of the people here. But after the storm and the subsequent flooding, I really had no choice.

Well, I absolutely had a choice. I had gotten touch with my family during the worst of the storm, and they weren’t in any mortal danger. I could’ve just used that as an excuse to not give much outside of prayers and well wishes to them. But I kept prying for something, any excuse for my presence to be necessary. I found the excuse the moment the words “you know we’re too old to take care of the yard in the aftermath” were uttered. Now I’m sitting in an empty passenger terminal, waiting to take an unpleasant four hour flight (flying on any military plane outside of a C-5 is unpleasant) from Honduras to Charleston, SC which will lead to a two hour drive to Sumter, the place where most of my skeletons and human flaws and insecurities were born.

But why? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s the quest for closure that I alluded to in my last post. After I actually had the chance to say goodbye to people I cared about for the first time, maybe I’m chasing that oppurtnunity again. Closure is a very foreign, but welcome feeling.

The impending move to Germany certainly feels like the end of a chapter in my life, and although it doesn’t mean that I’ll stop speaking to the friends and family I already have, there’s no use in pretending that life, for me or them, will be remotely the same when I return to the States in 2019.