I'll Give It One More Day
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him ‘til he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains.
The body breaks. The doctors can’t always fix it. The pills don’t always help it. The spirit doesn’t always have the strength to heal it.
“I’ll give it one more day.”
That’s the last thing I say to myself every night before I go to sleep. I’ve been saying that to myself every night for more years than I can remember. It’s my nighttime mantra and a bit of a personal inside joke. To me it’s just kind of funny. It allows you to express control and yet surrender it at the same time. I have no idea if it helps.
I have two little boys. One of them loves me with all his heart. The other still needs convincing. Divorce is a mind-fuck for little kids. They see both of their parents hurting and they feel like they need to take a side. Expecting them to nuance their love in an equal and appropriate manner for both parties is a lot to ask of someone still growing their brain cells.
It's a nightmare watching your kids grow up and try to figure out all the shit that life is throwing at them. You want to help them as much as you can, but you can’t because they’re exactly like you. They don’t want to listen. They don’t want to be told what to do. They get pissed off and they shout, “Leave me the fuck alone!” And you sigh because they said fuck. And then you sigh again because they probably learned it from you. And then you sigh some more because you remember yourself screaming it at your parents and it feels like a thousand daggers.
“I’ll give it one more day.”
We connect over art. He likes to draw so I got some supplies and put together a little art studio for him in the basement. He sits in the big chair and I prop myself onto a stool next to him. It was supposed to work the other way around but that’s how it turned out. The fucking stool makes my back ache. I never get the big chair.
He loves all of the colors that came in the set of pastels I got for him. His drawings are abstract and he seems to favor the reds and yellows. I’ve always liked charcoal. I like drawing faces. I’ve always liked drawing faces. I used to think I was pretty good but then I met a kid at school named Billy Harrison who could really draw and I realized I wasn’t very good. So I focused more on writing.
In fifth grade I won the James Butler Bonham Elementary school creative writing contest and was sent to compete at the district level. Baseball season had just started. It was my first year in little league and there was quite possibly nothing in the world that mattered to me more than the official Braeburn Little League Orioles hat that came with the uniform. I wore it everywhere, all the time.
However, the one place I knew not to wear it was inside the school. That was strictly forbidden. You could wear a hat to school and you could wear it on the playground and if your teacher was okay with it, you could even wear it inside a classroom. But the one place you never ever could wear a hat was inside the school itself—not in the hallways, the cafeteria, the library or any of the administrative offices. This policy was enforced with zero tolerance by the vice principal Ms. Bennet. She always kept a close eye on me. She knew I had a hat problem.
To this day I maintain my innocence. It was the end of the day and I was steps away from the school exit. I had my backpack in one hand and, in accordance with school policy, I carried my hat in the other. As I approached the door, a girl named Story Sessions walked alongside me. Story lived just a few blocks from me in a house across from the neighborhood pool. Because I was a gentleman, even at the young age of 10, I knew I had an obligation to open the door for her. This was Texas. Manners are a way of life down there.
I threw my backpack over my shoulder, put my beloved Orioles hat on my head and opened the door for Story Sessions.
Ms. Bennet was a witch. She must have been because she materialized out of nowhere, took the hat off my head and notified me it was now school property.
I FREAKED THE FUCK OUT.
This wasn’t happening. I had practice that night. We had a game that weekend. You can’t play baseball without a baseball hat on. It’s against the rules. I’d be kicked out of the league. My entire baseball career was in jeopardy.
I knew what I had to do. I marched myself down to Ms. Bennet’s office and explained, “If you don’t return my hat, I will NOT represent the school at the district level creative writing contest.”
I didn’t shout. I remained calm. I merely stated my terms.
“The bell has rung, Jeffrey. Aren’t you worried that you’ll miss your bus?”
I was terrified of missing the bus. I wore a key around my neck. Both my parents worked. I needed to get on the right bus every day and get my ass home or I was fucked.
“Well, if I could just get my hat back, then I won’t miss it and everything will be fine and I’ll have it for practice tonight.”
“But you broke the rules. You were wearing your hat inside the school building. You know the rules.”
“But, Ms. Bennet,” I implored. “I was holding the door open for Story. I didn’t have any arms free to hold it.”
“So, there’s a Story in your story? You really are a writer, aren’t you? Kinda hard to believe you’re forfeiting the creative writing contest. Seems right up your alley.”
I didn’t like the sound of the word forfeiting. That meant giving up. Which didn’t sit well with me. I wasn’t being a quitter. This was a protest. This was using my talent to defend what was rightly mine and, in a round-about way, the honor of Story Sessions. I believed myself to be on the side of justice.
Ms. Bennet continued before dismissing me entirely, “We’ll just have to send whoever came in second to the creative writing contest. You should get along now or you’ll miss your bus.”
And that was my first experience with being put in my place as a writer; having it made incredibly clear to me that I was easily replaceable. It was a valuable lesson. I remember bursting into tears and practically begging for forgiveness. Also a valuable lesson. I took three days of detention, got my hat back in time for the game on Saturday and then really choked it at the district level creative writing contest. I was not well suited for the competition. You were given a topic and an hour to write a creative essay. I couldn’t come up with anything that quickly back then. I’ve gotten a lot quicker but an hour is still a fairly unreasonable deadline. Even now, I prefer to have at least until EOD to come up with anything decent. I didn’t even place at the contest. It was a huge disappointment for me and a humbling experience with the hat and everything. Little did I know that someday I would earn my living off of this crap. It was a fairly shitty introduction to the trade. And all these years later, I’m still easily replaceable.
“I’ll give it one more day.”
That picture at the top of the post is the view out of my front window. It’s beautiful. I love our house and our neighborhood and as you can see from the color, it’s the beginning of fall—my favorite season. Growing up in Texas, we never got much of a fall season. It just went from summer to not summer and then quickly back to summer again. Michigan taught me what fall really looks like. It’s stunning.
We have a fairly large population of deer that live in the neighborhood. Half of the people consider them pests and want to “manage” the herd. The other half think they’re magical and leave left-over fruit on the lawn as deer snacks. Every once in a while, they walk past the window and peek in to make sure I’m staying busy. Or possibly to see if I’m willing to run to the kitchen and grab a few apples.
There is one thing in that picture that bothers me though. The NO OUTLET sign. It stares back at me all day long. It stares back at me in yellow. It watches me go about my business. It judges me when I’m slacking off. It taunts me when I’m on a call.
The sign keeps track of every word I write. NO OUTLET.
It reminds me how replaceable I am. NO OUTLET.
The sign sees me struggling to be a good father. NO OUTLET.
The sign laughs at me when I can’t get them to eat a decent meal. NO OUTLET.
It mocks me when I’m being pulled in all directions by the people and things in my life that need my attention. NO OUTLET.
The mistakes that I’ve made. NO OUTLET.
The disappointment. NO OUTLET.
The shame I feel. NO OUTLET.
The fear of losing everything. NO OUTLET.
The constant doubt and second guessing. NO OUTLET.
The judgement. NO OUTLET.
The endless days of slogging away one assignment at a time. NO OUTLET.
That fucking NO OUTLET sign is causing me to have an existential crisis of epic fucking proportions. I’ve thought about just going out there and taking it down but the guy who lives next to that sign is a real dickhead. He came over the night we were moving in and started getting all up in my business, trying to find out what my political affiliation was. He volunteered his and it didn’t match mine so I told him that our new friendship would flourish best by avoiding political discussion. The next day I put our Black Lives Matter sign out and the guy hasn’t said a word to me since. If he saw me taking down that NO OUTLET sign, he'd for sure call the fuzz. I thought about doing it under the cover of night but he’s got cameras all over the place.
I thought about calling up the city and simply explaining to them the situation. “Hi. One of your road signs is fucking with my head. Can you tell me who I need to talk to about getting that taken care of?”
That joke writes itself. Help yourself to the punchline.
But I’m not joking. I’m fucking serious. That sign bugs the shit out of me and one way or another it’s coming down. I just need to come up with the right plan, a good alibi and possibly around $500 to $1500 cash to pay the fine if I get caught.
“I’ll give it one more day.”
Thanks for reading. I'll see you again soon.