Well, hello cave dwellers. It's been awhile since I've felt the urge, or the need, to express myself in a public forum. Needless to say, a lot has happened since I last meandered in this dankly-lit man cave in the summer months of 2013. People have come and gone from my life; many have moved on and others have passed on, including my mother in July of 2018.
I've had a few experiences lately that have made me decide to pick up the proverbial digital pen and lay it to digital paper in an effort to, maybe, exorcise a demon or two that have been inhabiting this cave for far too long a time.
Recently, I met a woman. She was mesmerizing: drop dead gorgeous; an engaging personality; a wicked smile that would sexily creep across her beautiful face; home-schooled and preternaturally intelligent; and she knew the proper usage of "their," "they're," and "there." A feat, it would seem, that befuddles most social media-prone people. So, of course, I was instantly intrigued by this grammar muse. We dated for a ridiculously short period of time, yet she made an impression on me that again made me take up this silly little blog.
While she may be a peripheral character to this story, she said something to me that has always plagued me, years prior to her early-August reinforcement of that notion. She said that we all come into each other's lives for a reason. Actually, her late night profundity was that "everything happens for a reason." A que sera sera bon mot that could encompass most things or events, but be equally dismissed by someone who places little stock in the supernatural or fairy tales. And, while I may put a modicum of belief in her notion, it really made me think of something that happened a few years ago and how it still, and most likely always will, affect me.
I was sitting in Orlando International Airport in late October of 2017; I had gone down to photograph several senior picture sessions and my good buddy Dan had dropped me off at the airport a few hours prior to my flight. Being a Global Entry holder, it was a relief that I was able to flash my passport and Global Entry card and be through security in about three minutes flat. From drop off to my gate, it was a mercifully simple experience, unlike the poor folks leaving Disneyworld sun-burnt, broke, and now the purveyors of one of the longest lines in airport security that I had ever seen, Which, I imagine is a daily Groundhog Day-like occurrence in that tropical heat. Compound that nightmare by several hundred sunburnt, Mickey Mouse ear hat-wearing children and it paints a fairly accurate picture of Hell's seventh level. I suppose if you're looking for a form of birth control, a few hours amongst hundreds of overstimulated, nap-deprived four year-olds would be pretty close to the best damn morning-after pill that exists.
Anyway, I got to my gate and had a few hours to kill; I pulled up Facebook and started perusing the local news. A Fox8 story nearly took the wind out of my lungs: A few months prior to my Florida trip, a beloved Strongsville teacher had been brutally murdered. She had been both stabbed and shot and the perpetrator hadn't been found. Well, in my seven-day absence from the 216, the Strongsville police had coerced a confession from the murderer. The killer, it seems, was her daughter's live-in boyfriend and the father of the slain teacher's newborn granddaughter.
And, of course, I played a central role in the entire affair.
Now, I don't mind inserting myself into situations that are interesting or positively life-affirming, but this event is one thing that I wouldn't want to touch with a three meter cattle prod. Where does our responsibility to others start? Where does it end? To what do we owe each other, strangers, close friends, or family? These questions, among many others, always enter my mind when I'm just trailing off into the twilight of sleep.
In 1994, I worked as a manager at a Blockbuster Video store. Remember those antique establishments? You'd rent a "videocassette" to put into your "VCR," than you had to be kind and rewind it before driving back to the place and shoving it into this little mail slot, where it would hit the floor with a deafening thud, making you believe that you just broke the damn thing.
My girlfriend and I were going through a lot of problems, complicated by the fact that we were soon expecting a child. She was being difficult, due to whatever thoughts of motherhood might have been feverishly passing through her head and, presumably, if the lunkhead who knocked her up would make a good father. We weren't speaking; to this day I still don't know what motivated her to do what she did. I don't even know if she has an answer, almost two-and-a-half decades later.
But that summer, in my dazed twenty-eight year old state, I needed to be around people. Even people that I didn't know well or particularly like very much. I coveted the comfort and closeness of friends on a very primal, unexplainable level. So, one day a fellow manager from my Blockbuster dropped by. We had a few beers and talked endlessly, as it would seem, about my situation. I was grateful that a guy who was a little callous most of the time was there to give me a mental helping hand.
Then out of the blue a good friend of mine, someone I've known since the third grade, dropped by. She came to check in on me and started up a casual conversation with my Blockbuster buddy. They left, coincidentally, at the same time, and I found out a few weeks later that they had started to date.
Flash forward a few years: They ended up getting married and had three children, punctuated by a miscarriage that would have resulted in a fourth child. By then, my buddy had left the dead-end world of retail management and enrolled at the police academy.
He became a Cleveland cop and, due to the inordinate ravages of relationships strained by parenthood and other miniscule, ego-driven cosmic forces, the three of us didn't really talk too much any more.
I reconnected with her, my third grade confidante, about ten years ago and we collapsed a thirteen-year absence from each others' lives in about an hour at an Arby's on a rainy Saturday evening.
We discussed our children; we talked about our dreams; our aspirations; my nascent travel bug. Over the ensuing years we drifted apart again. I guess the friendship wasn't what it once was and the time apart had taken us into two dissonant directions; her children were still in the ravages of their teenage years and my son was already out of high school.
Through friends, I heard her son had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Not too out-of-the-ordinary these days, but the two were still in high school. Deflated, my two friends accepted the fact that their oldest was soon going to make them grandparents.
To make matters worse, the young couple had moved into her parents' home with their newborn.
Apparently, one evening the future mother-in-law confronted my friends' son about the handgun and knife he had brought into her home. Feeling threatened, or perhaps due to an over-inflated sense of self, he brutally stabbed and shot his future mother-in-law to death. Her murder sent shockwaves through Cuyahoga County. She was a well-loved teacher and mentor and her death made the local news for a few weeks.
This is the part where I come in.
I understand that we, as individuals, can't be responsible for someone else's actions. But, because of me and my pitiful 1994 self this couple met. They started dating, married, and had this son whose destiny was to become a murderer. Is it my fault?
For what reason did my friends come into my life, literally, at that moment to console me? Years later, what put him, a rage-filled teenager, into that innocent woman's life?
And whenever I probe that question the only answer that comes to mind is one singularity: Me.
And what of the beautiful muse who shared such a short amount of time this summer? Why did she come into my life?
I don't know. Maybe there is no answer. Or maybe to remind me that we're all connected and that one singular act...an innocuous meeting between two disconnected people...can have horrible, fatal consequences many years later.
But I'll tell you this: It keeps me up at night, pondering that a woman who didn't know me, had no idea that I even existed, is dead because of me. In a twisted, gnarled, fucked up way, you could say that I pulled the trigger just as much as the confused, angry boy who murdered her in cold blood.
And that, even more than the beautiful smile on my early August muse, is the hardest thing to let go.