Last Exit on the Left

I keep my wounds without a bandage.

I spent the larger part of this weekend at a funeral in upstate New York. A friend of mine killed himself earlier this week. I spent a lot of time in the car, listening to Get Hurt and watching the exits roll by. Moving between destinations and trying to occupy my mind with thoughts outside of grief, disbelief and rage.

My friend sat next to me at work. For more than a year I spent the majority of my time within five feet of him. I saw him more often than I saw my girlfriend, my family, and my dog. Combined. We ate lunch together most days, went to the gym, and did a daily walk around the city where we worked. And we talked. About everything. Everything except what was apparently going on under the surface.

Why don’t you lean on me for a while?

It’s a sad pattern with depression that no one notices it; that the person being crushed under the weight of it can mask the pain so completely; that they don’t speak up except in a last letter home.

It didn’t seem real. He was 30. Healthy. Strong. Handsome. Endlessly kind and larger than life. We cried at the closed casket. We laughed at the old stories. We stumbled back to the hotel. We tried to lean on each other for support, but our legs were shaky and unstable. We slept little and woke early.

Come on and grieve for my disease.

I got to the funeral alone. I sat in an empty pew. I listened to Catholic platitudes that rang hollower than I remembered. I suppressed tears and smiled at the fragments of stories that drifted into my head. They sang “Be Not Afraid” and I broke in half. The weight of realization. This was reality in all its cruel, malicious brutality. Its senselessness and unanswerable questions. Its pain. Sharp and piercing. Dull and lingering.

Be not afraid. Not me. I’m shaking with terror and grief. I’m crying and my body’s convulsing and there’s hands on my shoulder, trying to help but I’m a million miles away.

And nobody knows what trouble I’m in. Ain’t that a shame?

They refer to it as “Darkness;” this nebulous entity that can’t be held, or pinned, or defined, or understood. Its incredible ability to consume. Slowly or immediately. Encroaching “Darkness.” It lived in the biggest, most boisterous, sweetest, most genuine human being I ever met. It lives in all of us. It lives in me. We go to these Dark Places to try and shine a light on it. But the Darkness returns whenever the light recedes. It’s always there.

Every little moment of doubt is another stone. I watched this man bench-press over 300 pounds. I saw him lift over 400 pounds off the ground. There didn’t seem to be a weight he couldn’t move. And finding him crushed under this other weight, immovable… goddammit.

Me? I’m a tomb. Just a corpse in a suit, trying to look a little alive.

It was a long drive home. I thought about my parents and my puppy waiting for me at the other end. I thought about the road. I thought about the Exit. I thought about the brakes that needed fixing, the house that need cleaning, the laundry that needed to be done, the errands that needed to be run. I thought about the weight. I thought about the Darkness. I thought about the fragility of mortality. I thought about how anyone could be next, because fuck if you can tell what’s going on inside someone even when they’re standing right fucking next to you every damn day.

If I had known you were going to jump, I would’ve tried to catch you. All the times I spotted for you; all you had to do was ask and I would’ve helped you lift this weight, too.

I’m so sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.

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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

That Was Unexpected

I’m All-Powerful.

In the past 3 days since I posted my thoughts about Ray Rice, the NFL, and domestic violence this blog garnered almost 500 views. That’s a lot. Part of it was even paraphrased (and misinterpreted) on a local sports radio show. I guess that’s not so surprising since the Dennis & Callahan show is notorious for their many bigoted, racist, and sexist remarks in the past, but I guess kudos for trying?

Thanks.

This is just a quick post to say thanks to everyone who shared my thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, carrier pigeon and so on. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it and shared it, and I’m happy about the discourse it created. I hope that once the Ray Rice story becomes old news that these discussion will not stop. As I stated in that other post, this problem goes well beyond one man, one league, or one incident. If we want to change the narrative on domestic violence in this country it is going to take everyone’s voice.

A Final Thought.

The video below is from Katie Nolan. It is incredibly well-done and worth your time to watch.

Man’s Game

Not sure what I was expecting.

So without too much recapping, this post is about Ray Rice. If you don’t want to read/hear about it then screw. There’s plenty of places to go bury your head. Ray Rice, a professional athlete, punched his fiancee (now wife) in the face, then dragged her unconscious body out of an elevator and left her on the floor. These are facts. They have always been facts. So when I watched the video that TMZ posted of this happening, I’m not sure what I was expecting. And though I loathe TMZ, I gave them the clickviews they were so desperately after and watched grainy security footage of Ray Rice punching Janay Palmer in the face, knocking her unconscious.

Aftermath.

Shortly after the video was released, the Internet promptly exploded into its usual brand of do-nothing indignation. The Ravens terminated Rice’s contract, the NFL suspended him indefinitely, and the pro football media – so firmly in the NFL’s pocket – began its glad-handing and renegging.

What we don’t know.

Despite that it was reported as fact by multiple NFL reporters/”insiders,” we now don’t know if the NFL officials (namely commissioner Roger Goddell) ever saw this footage when they issued their initial 2-game suspension/slap on the wrist to Rice, because the NFL is denying it and those reporters are back-pedaling. They reported that the NFL was investigating when it was in the league’s best interested to appear invested (and partook in everyone’s favorite domestic violence past-time: victim blaming), and now they’re retracting those statements when it’s in the league’s best interest to appear ignorant. Because I suppose ignorance is a step up from callousness.

What we do know.

Nothing in that last fucking paragraph matters at all. It only matters in the court of public opinion for the purposes of determining just how big of pieces of shit Roger Goddell, and the rest of the league brass, are. Because here’s the thing: we’ve always known what happened. Ray Rice punched his wife in face and knocked her unconscious. A grown man/professional athlete/supposed role model/cash-cow took his fist, attached to 212lbs of muscle, and drove it into the face of a woman whom he purports to love with enough violent force that her body’s instinctive reaction was to stop functioning.

This is a fact. This has always been a fact. Roger Goddell and the NFL knew this whether they saw the video or not. It just makes it all the more horrifyingly callous to imagine that they could watch this video, shrug, and hand down a two-game suspension.

“A man’s game.”

I watched Sunday’s Patriots/Dolphins game, and later that night when nothing else was on, I watched the end of the Colts/Broncos game. Both games went back and forth and remained in question until the fourth quarter where comebacks were stymied in thrilling fashion.

Football is an exhilarating, engaging sport. The NFL is the only purveyor of professional football*. On Sundays from September through February our national zeitgeist is focused solely on football. It is a hallmark of our culture; a whited sepulcher housing our greatest shame within our “greatest game.”

The issue at hand goes beyond Ray Rice. It is systemic. It is cultural. The NFL cares more about making money than it does about battered spouses, because we care more about football as a society than we do about domestic violence. If boycotting football meant the end of domestic violence in this country, I highly doubt that the NFL’s ratings would even see a dip. To illustrate this point, here’s a response to something I posted on Facebook:

[Boycotting] would be a whole lot more plausible if the NFL didn’t hold a monopoly on professional football. You’re god damn right I’m not eating a Chik-Fil-A, the fuckers, but that’s cuz I can get fried chicken six feet away at KFC or where ever else. If Chik-Fil-A was the only place in the world where I could eat fried chicken, well I’m pretty sure I’d find myself in line with a bottle of honey mustard and bbq sauce sauce in each hand.

This is from a person whom I know has gay friends, and I’m confident is a staunch supporter of gay rights. He is, however, ultimately unaffected by the plight of homosexuals in America. An embodiment of all that is straight white male privilege (a term I have come to loathe less and less). So he does what most of us do: the bare minimum. Of course I won’t eat at Chik-Fil-A because that’s a “sacrifice” that doesn’t take something away from me that I enjoy. But how could I stop watching football? Isn’t it worth a couple battered spouses for such high quality entertainment? Maybe we can add Domestic Assaults (DA) to the TD/INT ratios, you know, to raise awareness.

I don’t mean to single out this person, because that reduces this to a “not all men” argument. The issue is that we all do it. A Facebook group called NFL Memes shared this gem yesterday:

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Charming. A female friend liked it (along with 37,000+ other people). A male friend shared it. Tacit agreement that women are less important than football – even to the men who care about them – delivered in meme form. Misogyny monetized and marginalized.

And, of course, this goes beyond gender issues. Simply taking the NFL as a microcosm of American society we get a nice rainbow of our worst features: homophobia, racism, violence, victim blaming, animal abuse, child abuse, gun safety, gang violence, bullying, drunk driving. Turtles all the way down. None of this, of course, is as bad as smoking weed, but I digress.

The NFL is an entity that values profit over humanity, whether that be born out in their refusal to pay cheerleaders minimum wage, their woeful safety policies (especially related to concussions), their utterly maligned morality, or their history of protecting domestic abusers. The NFL doesn’t care about its employees, its players, or anyone else that might get in the way of them charging $60 for a pink, bedazzled Ray Rice jersey. The only way to affect a change in culture is to force it, and the only way to force the NFL to do anything is to vote with your money.

Sadly, even if everyone that sees that reads this joined me in boycotting the NFL, it ultimately wouldn’t make a difference, because its not just an NFL cultural issue, it’s an American cultural issue. We care more about tackles and passes than battered spouses and cold-blooded murder.

What’s worse is, as I said before, this extends beyond the NFL. Palmer (Rice) ultimately dropped the charges against Rice and apologized for the “role that she played in the night of the incident.”

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What’s sick is that she probably convinced herself/was convinced that she was in some way culpable for what happened. Our culture of victim blaming and athlete deification has rendered Janay Palmer (Rice) as defenseless in our society as she was in that elevator. To chastise or criticize her for not pressing charges and for ultimately marrying Rice is to miss the point. She’s not “stupid” for doing these things; they are, to her, her safest course of action. The devil you know is better than the one you don’t, because this isn’t just a Ray Rice issue, it’s not just a NFL issues, it’s a societal issue.

So what?

And there’s the rub. Acknowledgement of a problem is, as always, the first step. It is also, as always, never the last. I’m no longer going to watch the NFL, but I’m not going to call for a boycott. I’m not going to ask you to ask yourself any deep, introspective questions. Even if I had the persuasive power to affect everyone who reads this, it would be an inconsequential drop out of the NFL’s bucket, and an even smaller impact on society as a whole.

So why write about it? Because I think it is important. Because when I asked myself whether I thought a person’s human rights and safety were more or less important than watching Tom Brady this Sunday, I found the answer surprisingly easy. Because it is my hope that people will read and be affected by it, and maybe do something about it.

Because if we do nothing at all, and expect change to happen… I’m not sure what we’re expecting.

 

* For reasons too numerous to count I am willfully neglecting any discussion of college football and the NCAA. Even I run out of vitriol and indignation at some point.

Our Journey Begins

Origin Story.

Let’s get this out of the way for any uninitiated: My name is Vinny. I will often refer to myself in the third person, e.g. “Great job, Vinny.” There is a 99.9% chance this will be sarcastic.

I have a 6 month puppy named Oberyn, after Oberyn Martell from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. I will often refer to him as “Obie,” because it’s quicker and easier to type.

I own a house, a car, started a new job after ~6 years, and I’m 3 months removed from a ~3 year relationship. I don’t know, that just seems like it might come up later and I don’t wanna have to go explaining it.

 

Call to Adventure.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m cribbing these titles from the monomyth (aka Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”). That Wikipedia article is a good way to kill some time. Anyway, why am I blogging again? I mentioned the new job above; well, I work from home now. There’s is absolutely nothing I can complain about regarding that. However, it does mean it’s just me and the dog here all damn day, and the dog is shitty conversationalist. So instead of talking myself and listening to Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend” on repeat, I’m blogging… and listening to Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend” on repeat.

The new job, new puppy, and new single life is essentially my “Crossing the Threshold.” It’s a brave new world (complete with naked savages and sex drugs). It feels a lot like starting over, which is a pretty terrifying prospect while staring down 30 (okay, 30 is still a bit in the distance, but it’s there).

 

 What Lies Ahead.

I’m starting to dip my toe back into dating. This is exhausting. The last time I dated I was 25 and I felt old then. I have friends on their second marriages and third kids. And don’t get me wrong, I’d rather not have alimony or child support payments due, but being the one single friend of all the couples around me is a little weird. I’m a stuffed woodchuck and a relationship with Alanis Morrisette away from being Uncle Joey.

I’m going to a Homebrew Jamboree/camping trip this weekend and then my friends Matt and Sara are getting married next weekend. So at least I’m keeping busy and not buying any cats.

Reset Button

Starting over.

I was about to create a new blog, but I’m too damn lazy to try and come up with a new blog name. So I deleted all the previous entries from this one, and here we are. Unlike the last iteration that was roughly themed around my creative writing, this iteration has no theme. It will be more similar to my blog from college, though hopefully with fewer typos and less ennui. It will also be shorter-form for the most part. This post is already pushing the limits of my attention span.

 

What to expect.

I have no posting schedule and no particular plans for this blog. But if I were a betting man I’d say there will probably be a smattering of creative writing, some beer-related posts, a lot of geeky shit, and a dash of gratuitous profanity. Tomorrow I’ll probably post a baseline introduction; the who/what/how/where/when/why.

 

Onward.

Because apparently “onwards” isn’t a word.