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Sunday, June 25th, 2006
7:07 pm - What happens at the end?
One-hundred and eighty days: The number I spend with a group of twenty-five to thirty students, on any given Monday through Friday from September to June. There's always a few leaving, and a few coming, but there remains a core group that are there from start to finish. As a "looping teacher," I get that core group for not one, but two years. Double 180 and make 360. Figure in six and a half hours per day, and I'm over 2,300 hours as a primary influence for this small group of children. In September 2004, I was given my first class...roughly twenty-eight students. As I've said before, many have come and gone, however, the core has remained, and finally, last Friday, I had to say good-bye. Rather than give some stupid speech to the entire class, I chose to instead take students into the hall individualy and talk to them personally.

It’s weird. As I’ve told my class on more than one occasion, I see and interact with them more than anyone else in my life. Like it or not, they’re almost a part of my family. Now, however, the two years has come to completion. Some of these kids I’ll see walking the halls next year, hell, I might even see a few of them at the grocery store. Yet never again will I be as important to them as I once was. Two years they’ve had to deal with me, listen to me, go home and answer questions from their parents about me, probably wished they didn’t know me on certain occasions. It’s just weird how a person can be such a force in someone’s life, and then simply wink out like a candle flame being snuffed. I hope I’ve left some sort of lasting impression, served as some sort of role-model to all (or most) of them.

These are the people I’ve spent the last two years of my life with, and now they’re simply gone, and what am I left with?

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Saturday, April 29th, 2006
7:34 am - no one ever told me when i was alone...
when i was, i dunno, fourteen or so, i always assumed that as I aged, I would subsequently feel older too. I figured by twenty, twenty-two or so, I'd feel like an adult. By the time I reached thirty-five I'd have a basic understanding of what life is all about and I'd just settle in and coast. I always thought that when I'd turn eighty, or eighty-five, I'd FEEL eighty, or eighty-five. My body would creak and crack, my mind slow down, vision deteriorating, the ability to hear fading away...I'd wake up with pain in my hips and knees...basically feeling as though I'd lived my life...coming to grips that the end might be nearing.

However, since I've graduated and have begun working with people of various ages, in various stages of life, I've come to realize that the stupid cliche I've always heard is actually true. "Age is just a number." I look at one women who's sixty-five and on the verge of retirement...and I doubt she feels a day over thirty.

I always thought that when I got up there in years that I'd feel as old, and thus accept the end more willingly. Now I'm not sure. Even now...twenty-six-years-old...I probably only feel about sixteen, and that scares me, because I don't think I'll be ready. I wonder if most of us ever are...

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Saturday, April 22nd, 2006
6:14 pm - sold
There isn’t a place in this world that has the answer to life’s question. There isn’t a wise man on earth that knows it all. There isn’t a god above that is all knowing. Every man can find truth…can find understanding amidst the troubles of his existence; however, there is no way to combat the fear we all have for death. Man cannot be expected to search for truth if he cannot even bear the weight of his own mortality. When the wind ceases to blow, and the sands are still, when the flowers wilt and the sky turns gray, who can be expected to take up the burden? Who will be strong enough to fight? In a world of cell phones and cable TV, we are all weak…we are all doomed to die having never cared for answers…having instead only cared for worth. Men desire the touch of things, not the power of enlightenment. Nevertheless, all our earthly remains will one day line the inside of a coffin; will be buried beneath heavy black dirt, beneath twinkling stars that will one day burn out.

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Tuesday, April 18th, 2006
6:07 pm - Oooh, yeah
Recently in class we were talking basic geography as we do every day for about ten minutes per. Some kid didn’t know where Washington State was on a map. Another kid thought there were fifty-two states in our country.

The other fourth grade teacher and myself always are quoting the fabulous cult classic, Office Space, and whenever a kid says something dumb we transform ourselves into Bill Lumberg, and say “Ooooh, yeah, see, that’s gonna be a problem…”

I guess I assume too much. But isn’t it fair to assume that a ten-year-old can locate the state they live in on a map…especially if said student has lived in said state for most if not all of their entire existence? Yeah…I do believe I should be able to assume as much.

Nevertheless, after that eye-opening embarassment, I requested that students learn all fifty state names, and also be able to locate them on a map. It just seems that familiarizing yourself with the general make-up of your country isn’t asking too much.

Today, after school, some mom called up. “You know there’s fifty-two states, not fifty, right?” I assumed she was joking. Ya see…there’s my problem…I was assuming again. I should’ve learned my lesson…apparently I’m still a novice in that area. I laughed, assuming she was just joshin’ me. (Transform to Bill Lumberg mode) Ooooh, yeah, see, that’s a problem, because as I soon deduced…she was not “just joshin’ me.” I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to say something completely inappropriate…yet as I wrote yesterday, I am now a professional…so I quickly composed myself.

“Why don’t you have your kid bring in the list of the fifty-two tomorrow, and I’ll check ‘em over…I could be wrong,” I said.

“Yeah, yah never know,” she chuckled, “cuz I know Hawaii was only just recently made a state…”

Ooooh, yeah, that’s gonna be sort of a problem, because Hawaii wa admitted to the union in 1959, which if I figure correctly was forty-seven years ago. Now I’m not sure what she considers recent, but if I wasn’t even alive yet…well…yeah.

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Monday, April 17th, 2006
7:53 pm - descent
I never knew I’d grow up to me someone. Couldn’t have known that one day I’d be giving the orders. Jesus Christ, in 1st grade I pissed my pants on the bus because some bully named Michael Wentworth tried to force me to go home with him. I remember the memories of the past so vividly. In 2nd grade I cried because I was too sick to go to our class Christmas party. “Please mom, they’re gonna have an ice cream buffet,” I reasoned. I sat in a heap of scarves and mittens in the hallway near the front door trying to wish my way out into the frigid, suburban-Chicago, December morning. “You threw up not even an hour ago,” was my mother’s logical response. Now I’m all growed up. And instead of others telling me what’s best, I make those decisions for myself. In highschool during one of the many classes I chose not to pay attention, I doodled a game of “MASH” on my note paper. Any kid can tell you that MASH is a stupid little time waster designed to predict who you’re likely to marry, the type of car you’ll drive, number of kids, and whether you’d live in a mansion, apartment, shack, or house, hence the title of the game. Instead of lining the paper with the names of girls and cars, I instead chose what my likely profession would be, and the age of my death. Lovely, I know. I believe I played games like those with myself in order to set myself up for failure. So that when everything fell apart, my world crumbling down around me, I’d be able to tell myself I should have foreseen it. Who would have guessed that now I am actually a professional of some sort. Have beaten the odds, and succeeded when so many destined me to fail. Of course it’s early. Anything can and might still happen. I could make a mistake…it’s not like I haven’t before. I love what I do, and feel lucky to be in the position I’m in. Somewhere in the future awaits events too troubling to contemplate. Somewhere in time a moment unlike any other moment will be my end. Until that day comes, I will relish the opportunities given to me, and never forget who I once was. Who I am still.

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Sunday, April 2nd, 2006
6:47 pm - turn the clocks back
it's 7pm, but i feel like i just woke up. my clothes are in the dryer tumbling around. i feel hot. i think my skin's dry. what good would lotion do? i just finished ironing a shirt. i cant decide what i hate more: being stuck in a traffic jam or ironing. it's a fuckin conundrum.

tomorrow i meet my three new potential bosses. one of these fucks will soon be judging me in the future...be analyzing my performance. it really irritates me that when i finally get used to the old bag, i'm faced with yet another change.

here's some dude...some fuckin poseur, who decided that he needed a few more bucks to line his pockets with, and what better way to do it than to become an administrator. what do they really do, anyway? go to meetings...meet with their bosses...and decide what more they need me to do...never really doing anything themselves.

i remember back when i was at old navy...i remember getting a new boss...Don...fake. Brent...fake...What the hell will i do if i get some new piss pot sell out? Just reminiscing about those two is enough to literally send me into spasms. guys who's smiles were so wide they'd bite the heads offa live kittens if you turned your back long enough.

i'm so annoyed. i dont want someone new to determine my future based upon their philosophies. hey...pal, i don't really care that while you were in school you had some epiphany about how you'd run things when you got your big break in the real world. what sounds great in text books might not seem so great in reality...but people like you never admit to such things because to do so would empower the help.

one of these dudes is supposedly from orlando...why in the hell would a dude leave orlando for this? how do you even hear about a job like this living in a place like orlando?

i hate principals! if you were such a great teacher, why'd you stop to start tellin' me what to do??

current music: replacements

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Saturday, February 25th, 2006
5:50 pm - closure
Concrete floors that I had tread across many days. In the late and early evenings my pace would quicken as the store would begin to close and old merchandise needed to be put away, new merchandise piled underneath metal shelves and on top of already crowded tables. For two years, this place, now empty, hollow, was my home. So many moments spent underneath the fluorescent beams of light, speakers repeating the same songs over and over. How many times can a person hear the refrain, “it’s raining men,” and still stay visibly sane? Others, like “around the world,” weren’t half bad.

I saw this place today. Its doors were closed. The large blue letters above the door had been taken down. The decals that were once plastered across large glass windows had vanished. Cash registers once brimming with the bustle of activity, besieged by hangers, returned $3.99 lime-green-sweaters, and pocket lint were quiet…empty. Even now, reflecting back upon those memories, I have a difficult time accepting that a piece from my life is no more. Just a business, perhaps, but to me, and many that became acquiantaces, if not friends, is gone. Allie, Brad, Ivory, Angela, Selena, Jeff, Tyson, Danielle, Gus, Connie, Kelly, Cathy, Tim, Sean, Nick, Tiffany, Matt, Jessica, Jakari, Courtney, Amiah, Lacey, Lisa, Aubrey, Brittany, Stephanie, Jonathan, Jessi, Michael, Inna, are a small few from the top of my head.

I couldn’t stop staring at the empty building. Hours of my life spent within those walls. People who meant so much to me at the time…some of whom probably never knew how much I cared for them…needed them.

During the past four years, I haven’t so much as stepped inside those doors, yet knowing they were there to open if I needed…was comforting?

The names I listed are now only that…names. I’ve lost touch with each and every one of them. Some of them I miss dearly, and yet they’ll never know it. Perhaps now that the doors are permanently closed, I can accept that they’re gone, and cherish the past. Then again, I don’t really think I have another choice.

current music: there was a time

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Tuesday, August 9th, 2005
5:13 pm - subject
Summer school really over? dear god. I informed our inquiring custodian that I would dig a hole in the ground, crawl in, and unattach myself from society for the next week and a half. If I even happen to peek out, who knows what misfortunes might come my way. Perhaps a kid with stubby legs and a large snout would find me.

somewhere in time waits a day unlike any other. a day lingering on the edge of a void.

i do not believe a "why" exists for everyone, only a "when."

When that day arrives, each breath will unlock a subsequent moment that can only be ours.

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Thursday, August 4th, 2005
7:17 pm - Pea Soup
this woman i work with talks too fast. she is always stressed out. i want to smack her upside the head and tell her to chill out. lady! take a deep breath and stop taking life so seriously. I'm not perfect, people, but nevertheless, i pride myself in taking a nice clean breath in between sentences.

Let me demonstrate the sensible way to speak: "Babble babble babbalabalaba. (Breath) Babbalabba babble babble. (Breath) Babble babble...etc.

Now, let us quickly analyze the verbal wretching of this woman: "babblebabblebababalabababble.babblelabbalabba.babblebabblebabble.BABBLE!BABBLE!"

You see my dears, it is a thoroughly unsatisfying way in which to communicate.

She wonders why she is not hired full-time. (correlation?)

As I have noted in previous entries, school during the summer months is clearly supposed to be calm and peaceful. Don't rock the boat, honey.

current music: hollywood baseball

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Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005
6:02 pm - Rise n' Shine
the school has been so empty this summer. the occasional teacher trickles in for a minute here and there. a few kids are stashed away in the day care while their parents work. the custodian drags his carpet cleaner from room to room, dredging up terrible smells that seem to have accumulated over the past who knows how many years.

it's odd. i dont necessarily want to start the new year... yet...I am anticipating opening all the windows in my room...letting the sunlight stream through. plugging in some new air fresheners. cleaning up. putting everything just so. i love when the room is complete. shined. polished. ready. desks where i want them. books neatly stacked. name tags yet to have meaning.

i'll walk into the office. catch the gossip. make a few sarcastic comments. it's a new beginning. i like that.

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Monday, August 1st, 2005
7:02 pm - summer school
in the mornings, when the school is empty, i wander the halls. down the sleepy corridors previously tread by thousands of students. some who are inevitably no longer with us. the memories seep from the walls. the sunlight slips in between the cracks of closed blinds and casts dusky streaks on gray carpets. i walk into classrooms abandoned for the summer. each room evokes its own smells. the cabinets and walls portray the personalities of teachers gone away. the empty desks are free from the bustle of routine. i linger in these rooms, standing beneath extinguished fluorescent light. sounds seem muffled. outside does not exist beyond the locked door. i sift through the murk of these rooms and relish the peace. these tired rooms that endure all. i almost feel each room sigh. feel the slow and rhythmic exhalations from a place who rests. the air is thick and still. each rooms exists in a time all to itself. a time where the clutter of warm bodies cannot rouse this sleeping entity.

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Friday, July 22nd, 2005
9:36 pm - song yet to be sung
My pillow is cold. face burning. tears from each memory spilling from my eyes. face and pillowcase are damp in the still deepening night. somewhere between yesterday and today i decided to reflect. i stand, wilting in my shower. warm water runs across my skin and pools on the floor only to wash itself into the drain. who am i now? but a person struggling to pull himself away from the void of the hopeless. once i was but a ten-year-old perched on my bunk bed contemplating the wonders of being defined by double-digits. then the world seemed vague and fragile. endless. unable to be understood. available to anyone who accepted it.

I hear the voices on the radio that tell me who i am. who i can be. i hear the voices of my peers who tell me to pass along the hope to those i teach. success can be had by anyone who takes command of their circumstances. fate is but a light in the eternal dark of hope.

one day i will walk among the flowers. my bare feet scuffling the green grass. the blue sky. the heat. my skin exposed. a drop of rain will fall, landing on a single eyelid, and slip down my cheek like a drying tear. and everything that at one time seemed a possibility will face me as a brutal reminder to the dwindling of time.

numbers define humanity. the wind will blow always.

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Friday, May 13th, 2005
5:54 pm - letter
Hey Ryan,
Thanks for your thoughtful letter. While there is a bit more banter in the morning, The Morning Alternative still plays 7-10 songs per hour, besting pretty much all morning shows musically.

In our constant efforts to balance art and commerce, the overriding desire from the majority of listeners is to be entertained through localism, pop culture etc... in the morning. While we have tried an all music morning show, it just doesn't register with people. We constantly hear about people who want more music in the morning...we deliver on it and then get crap ratings for it. We are attempting to ride the middle and do both, a tricky proposition.

Hope this helps...take care and thanks for the kind note. Let me know if you have any further questions.
_________________________________________________________________________________________

Program Director,
I know you have done a lot in the past year or so to change your radio format for the better. I especially love that you are playing lesser known bands (and Seattle bands for that matter) . I initially heard of Mountain Con, The Blood Brothers, The Decembrists and Smoosh from your station (all cds I wouldn't own if you hadn't played their record). Anyway...there's my compliment, now my complaint...

Who in radio first decided that talk radio had to be the format for the mornings? I'm standing there every morning, shaving, brushing my teeth, taking a shower, and would love to hear some music. After all, that IS WHY I LISTEN TO FM RADIO. It seems that every station insists on having a couple of dudes and a chick banter on and on about pop culture. Why? Why does every station need to do this? I would assume that there are many people who also would love to hear music in the mornings instead of talk.. I know, I know...you play a couple songs in between segments. However, if I happen to miss those two songs I end up having to wait another twenty minutes for No Name to talk and then for another round of commercials to end. (I never wait, I just get impatient and turn off the radio.)

Nothing against No Name really...although there certainly isn't anything special about him, or Jennifer White for that matter...I just want music. The music is why I have your station cued up, so why shouldn't I be able to listen to music when I need it?

Thanks for taking the time to read my letter.

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Saturday, May 7th, 2005
7:39 pm - Hairdryer
Occasionally Tad would sit on the porch with a glass of lemonade, gnashing his teeth on bits of crushed ice while he thought. Thinking wasn’t necessarily important to Tad, but during those rare moments when he let his mind wander free, his dreams seemed that much more attainable. It wasn’t that Tad was too lazy to spend time thinking about the big picture, rather too much of his life seemed spoken for by the mundane. Sometimes when he really opened himself up to dwelling on philosophy he thought he was intelligent enough to write a book. Of course the ramblings of one’s own mind often seem all the more unique until they are scribbled down on paper. As a result his computer hard drive was littered with two and three sentence files that were the beginnings of Tad’s trails into thought.
On this occasion in particular, Tad was contemplating the implications of existence, its infinite number of choices, how ever choice had a consequence, and every choice led to a different path into a life plagued with boredom.

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Sunday, December 12th, 2004
7:57 pm - The Wedding
Finally. After months of having known, Jeff’s wedding day was finally here. Never before had I cared, or even pretended to care. I would often sit at home, slunk up against the heater on my apartment wall, and tell myself to forget my friend. Tell myself I’d be fine without him. Fuck him, I’d say. I don’t need him. What is he really? Just a person. Just someone to spend a Friday night with. Someone I’ve grown into adulthood with. It’s funny. The two of us know everything about each other. Some random night we’d be out, I with a beer, him with a whiskey-seven, and after we’d finish discussing any pertinent issues, we’d end up talking about things that didn’t matter in the slightest, yet talking about those things were what made our friendship so comfortable. I’m afraid of change, always have been, probably always will be. Maybe that’s why even the smallest change of routine is so disconcerting.

The funny thing was, I really didn’t think I cared much. Even now, when I sit and reflect, I still don’t think I care. If I didn’t care, then where did that emotion come from later on? What made me lose control of myself?

It was a Friday afternoon, and Joe and I were driving up to Bellingham together. For the first hour, we had our usual conversation about the Seahawks, the Sonics, possible free agents the Mariners were looking at. The typical guy stuff. An hour of so into the trip, I pulled out my notebook, prepared to start writing the best man speech I had been dreading for so very long. I had told Jeff I wouldn’t give one. “You can’t make me, I won’t!” I had said over and over again. I simply wanted to refuse. However, I had also initially refused to be in the wedding, to wear a tuxedo, and to drive all the way to Bellingham, yet here I was, sitting as a passenger beside Joe, tux in the back seat, and destined to be in Jeff’s wedding in a mere twenty-four hours.

“We have to write down the speech,” I told Joe. “We can’t fuck it up like Jeff did at your wedding.” Back when Joe had been married three years prior, he had enlisted Jeff to give his “best man” speech. Being the procrastinator that he is, Jeff had waited and waited, never making the time to collect his thoughts on paper. “I’ll be fine,” he’d claimed, “I don’t need to write it down, I’ll just adlib.” Well, when you’re standing in front of two hundred people, even a lot of beer in the system makes you nervous, with or without a paper to read off. Joe and I tease Jeff to this day about that very weak and ill-prepared speech. The one he started off by asking the audience, “Can you guys hear me in the back? Testing, Testing.”

I had vowed to myself that I would not give my speech in that way. For Christ’s sake. I’m a teacher. I stand in front of an audience of thirty-one people a day. Of course those people just happen to be eight-years-old, but pickers can’t be choosers. (Did I just make that phrase up?)

I decided that Joe and I would both give the speech together, rather than give two separate speeches. All I could hope for was that Brandon (another groomsman, wouldn’t give one of his attention-grabbing speeches, thus stealing the show, and upstaging the two of us.) Brandon, who is always the center of attention and generally a good guy who means well, is always the bright spot of every social event. It’s just that people like me tend to be just a face in the crowd when he’s around. Though that’s enough about Brandon now, as we’ll get back to him later. It is my narrative after all.

So there we were, Joe and I, driving toward Jeff’s new home. Me, scribbling down words in my notebook, crossing them out, jotting down a few more in the margin. Joe, laughing at a past memory, and trying to think of the words to describe it.

It was decided that I would open the speech. Even though I was incredibly nervous, I felt confident enough that once I had the mic in my hand, I’d be able to step into my teaching shoes and perform well enough. Although, I could flop entirely, considering public speaking has always been one of my biggest fears. After I began the story, Joe would cut in and wrap up the rest of the story describing an embarrassing moment in Jeff’s “romantic” past. The biggest problem we were having was the conclusion paragraph. We knew from our research, that the best men were supposed to start their speech with an embarrassing recollection, and were supposed to wrap it up with a sincere comment about Jeff and Ellen’s future life together.

I couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t do it. Couldn’t stand in front of that enormous audience and say something good about the woman who was stealing my best friend. Even if I managed to wish them continued happiness together, Jeff would know I hadn’t meant it. Since Joe is married, and can better attest to what it takes to make a marriage work, I said he’d be doing it, end of story. I think he pretty much knew already that the sappy ending would be left up to him, so he didn’t much argue that point.

We knew who was going to read what, and what was going to be said, yet we could not find the words to put the final stamp on the speech. The humorous part had been easy. The part where we needed to include words like “compassion” and “love” had not. We decided we’d come back to it later, however, I knew that if we let our break from the speech last too long, we’d never come back to it.

Joe dropped me off at the hotel I was staying at so I could check in and leave my things. I could have stayed with Joe, Jeff, and Brandon, yet I chose some privacy instead. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to share a bathroom with three other guys. Call me an idiot. Oh well.

Afterward, we drove to Jeff’s new house. Well, not necessarily new, but the house that Ellen’s parent were letting their daughter and son-in-law use rent free. We walked in, Jeff coming out to greet us, Ellen was sitting in the kitchen out of sight, not saying a word. Ellen and I have never had the best relationship. It’s not that I don’t like her, but we’ve always had a small problem communicating with each other. If I was someone else, maybe I could have been the one to walk right up to her, apologize, and move on with my life. I’ve never been good at that sort of thing, always hoping that the other person would take the first step. She didn’t. Didn’t say hello, not to Joe or I, which didn’t surprise me, yet still hurt. I’m not sure why it hurt. Maybe because I was up there to celebrate their marriage, and had just make a two hour trip to be there. I’m not saying I wanted much. Just a “hi” would have been nice. After all, we were her guests. I always assumed the host was required to welcome you and not the other way around.

We had been doing better in our relationship that has struggled to take off from the beginning. In fact, I’m never entirely sure why we never seemed to get along. Most of the bad feelings were caused by a few misunderstandings that both of us took personally.

I even accepted the fact that she was marrying Jeff without much trepidation. It wasn’t until Jeff told me he was moving to Bellingham that I started to become suspicious as to what had provoked the move. I’ve written about this before, and still believe, that through subtle persuasion, Ellen led Jeff to believe that the move would be beneficial to his (to their) future. When Jeff first broke the news to me in October, I was so stunned and upset, that I ended up hanging up on him. I hadn’t hung up meaning it to be a “fuck you,” but rather I was so shocked I didn’t have the strength to continue the conversation.

Over the course of the next few weeks, as I began to feel even more helpless about the move, I decided I’d tell Jeff I wouldn’t go to his wedding. Deep down, I knew I’d always attend in the end, however, I wanted to hurt him like he had hurt me. Jeff knows me as well as anyone, so when I told him I wasn’t coming, he took me seriously, but I’m sure it was with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, he told Ellen, who was upset by the news that Jeff’s “best friend” would slight him in this manner, and took it upon herself to call me and tell me so. Luckily she called my old number at my parent’s house first, and was stopped by Jeff before she could dial my new number.

After Jeff has told me what Ellen had been prepared to do, I was immediately angry. What right did she have to call me out? She barely knew me, yet she was ready to tell me how to behave toward someone I’ve known longer than she had. Was I being childish about the move? Perhaps…yet it wasn’t her right to say so. Only Jeff and I could settle our differences, and come to terms with this imminent change.

Back to the present hour where Joe and I were sitting on the couch, muttering to each other how rude we thought Ellen was being. Jeff tried to make the excuse that she was crabby (the whole day before the wedding bull) mood which of course was proven wrong when Brandon showed up and she jumped up and gave him a hug and exclaimed “B!!” loud enough for us to see she approved of him and not us. Of course, their relationship has always been better because Jeff, Ellen, and Brandon, had all lived together in Jeff’s house in Tacoma for four months earlier in the year.

The four of us were together alone soon after. Ellen had left for her parent’s house, and Joe and I were drinking Rolling Rock, Jeff drinking Coors Light, and Brandon eating some swill from Jack in the Box. We argued back and forth about things, about Ellen’s behavior, about the beer that would be available at the wedding reception, the rehearsal dinner, Justas (Ellen’s pompous older brother), etc., etc. Brandon jumped on me while I was sitting in a buzzed haze on the couch, being his usual over-the-top self, digging his hand in my hair, and pushing me down into the cushions. I shoved him off of me, screaming at him. “I’m not in fucking high school anymore! I’m not 17 fucking years old!” He apologized, but I was so angry I left the room ruining the mood for the moment. I’m sure one could blame any number of things for that incident including the beer, myself, and Brandon for once again always going too far. It’s hard to stay mad at Brandon though, so within the hour, we were fine again, a mess avoided. Jeff had to run a few errands, so Joe and I had a few minutes to pick Brandon’s brain on the speech we had to give at the reception. He didn’t want to hear it, wanted it to be a surprise, but he helped us with the ending, the part where we needed those sincere words that a bride always likes to hear her husband’s “friends” utter on her behalf. He gave us some good ones that helped us put the finishing touches on things; I was just glad I didn’t have to say that part.

It was time for the rehearsal at the church. The pastor was wearing some 1972 blue suit that made him look like Mike Brady or Mr. Magoo. I don’t know which would be the better comparison. At the rehearsal, Joe said “hi Ellen,” to which she responded, “hi, Joe.” “How are you?” pressed Joe. “Fine, thanks,” she said with a smirk. (Well, Joe said it was a smirk.) Brandon, who always looks at things from the brightest side possible even agreed that Ellen appeared to be giving Joe and I the cold shoulder. (Son of a bitch! I had even sent her and Jeff a Christmas card at their new home trying to ease the tension! This is the thanks I get!)

It’s always strange to see Jeff and Ellen’s family together. Jeff’s family, more of a middle class, blue collar type, and Ellen from a upper middle class white collar background. Simply looking at the way both families are dressed, their manner of speaking, and the expectations they hold, make them appear almost polar opposites. At the rehearsal dinner, Jeff’s mom pulled out a birthday tape she’s owned for twenty-five years. Back in 79, she found a company that made personalized birthday songs. Well, it was basically a song with different names you could put on to make it seem personalized. Kind of like those personalized license plate key chains you used to find at discount malls. Every year she plays it exactly at the same time that Jeff was born. 10:07 p.m. Afterwards, the lighting of the Christmas decorations commences, signifying the beginning of the holiday season. (To make this woman seem even a bit more odd, she’s also made her three children take pictures with the department store Santa Claus every year since they’ve been alive.)

When Joe, Brandon, and I saw that Jeff’s mom was about to turn this rehearsal dinner into an extended version of Jeff’s birthday (carried over from the day before) we couldn’t have been more excited. Joe and I, slogging back beers, were so ecstatic, we could barely contain ourselves. Brandon had his digital camera primed and ready, directed at Jeff, and his bride to be who was seated beside him. When the music started, and a screech voice that sounded like a cross between Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs proclaimed “blast off!” we couldn’t have been laughing harder. I swear I’ve never cried from laughing so hard, but this was that one occasion when I had to break the mold. Jeff’s mother bobbing and weaving behind Jeff, swinging his arms around, as he grinned in embarrassment. Ellen beside him, probably not sure what to make of it. Everyone laughing, laughing, laughing.

After my elation at Jeff’s embarrassment had dissipated, and I had managed to polish off three full plates from the buffet, we were about ready to leave. The four of us guys, and Ellen and two of her friends, stopped off at the club where Jeff and Ellen originally met, and I tried to imagine that night. Jeff, in town for his sister’s graduation from Western, meeting Ellen for the first time, only having the nerve to approach her because of the alcohol induced buzz he had acquired from swallowing too much Malibu Rum and Coke. I suppose I could start another round of blame. Damn Jen for graduating! Damn Western for accepting Jen, thus creating a need for Jeff to drive there! Damn the Malibu Rum company! Damn the club for being the trendy kind of place that both Ellen and Jeff would think of going to. Damn alcohol for making people do and say things they wouldn’t ordinarily do and say.

But that kind of thinking is stupid. Life moves on, it constantly changes, and what I have today could be gone tomorrow. The cliché says “live life to the fullest” meaning appreciate what you have because “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I did take my friendship for granted. I never could have suspected that Jeff would move away. Hell, I imagined myself moving away as a more likely scenario. Jeff has always been all about family, and to think that he would leave his, didn’t seem possible. But maybe when he saw that Ellen could give him a family of his own, the temptation was simply too great. How long before the first pregnancy? I’d guess within the year.

Having eaten too much, I was ready to head back to my hotel, glad to have a break from the guys. Yeah, they were getting a free room, while I was having to pay for mine, but sometimes the price is worthwhile if I can save a bit of my sanity. I feel like such a fuck when I write this. What kind of person am I when I can’t even stand to sleepover with three friends for the night? Am I really the pampered softie I seem to be? Do people perceive me as such? I know I shouldn’t care, should not care, but I can’t stop caring.

Wake up at 7am. Grab some tea and an English muffin from the continental breakfast downstairs, watch Velvet Revolver do their thing on some VH1 award show. The night before I rewrote the speech Joe and I were planning to give. A little rearranging of the written word is always called for after having the night to sleep on it. Finish writing it, then get pissed that there were still lots of cross outs and decided to write it a third time.

Jeff & the boys called at 9:00 and said they were picking me up for breakfast at IHOP in thirty minutes. The day before I was have been beyond excited about the promise of pancakes, but my stomach was still recovering from the night before, so another cup of tea was all I could muster. All through breakfast, Jeff and Brandon were teasing us about the speech we’d soon have to give. Someone asked Jeff is he was getting nervous for that afternoon. “What do you have to be nervous about, bitch?! We’re the ones that are going to be forced to speak in front of 200 god damn people!” He grinned, because he’d been there before. He knew what it was like to completely botch a toast, and god damn it, I was not prepared to fuck this one up. Nevertheless, Joe (who was more nervous that even I was…funny how he was confident on Friday, before reality had really begun to sink in.)

We were all back at Jeff’s house an hour later, beginning to change into our tuxedos. Jeff, the fuck that he is, bought us all Adidas shoes for the wedding. Shoes for all five of the guys in the wedding party, himself, and both dads. He’s always been cheesy. Jesus, the nut job asked the DJ to play New Kids on the Block at the reception, and may have got his wish if Ellen hadn’t slapped him upside the head (at least she’s good for something). My damned tux pants were just a tiny bit too short, and didn’t fall entirely over the shoe, which pissed me right off. So as usual, I was griping and moaning, bitching and complaining. “shit, I thought I used to complain a lot,” teased Joe, “now you’ve got that title.” “Ha, Ha, Fuck you,” I retorted, “at least your fucking pants fit over your shoes.”

Let me tell you, it wasn’t that wearing the Adidas were necessarily all bad, but it was still a bit odd being dressed all in black with bright white shoes on your feet. Talk about standing out in a crowd.

Within half an hour, Jeff, Joe, Brandon, Justas, and Jason (Jeff’s brother) were all in the limo, and heading towards the church.

“ Jeff, is your asshole puckered?” asked Justas as we drew nearer to Jeff’s fate. What the fuck is he talking about, I wondered? Joe and I looked at each other with quizzical looks on our faces, remembering to ask someone later about the obscure reference.

Now we were at the church, the groomsman all being led to a nearby park by the photographers for some “fun” shots. Fun. Fun? How the fuck can I have fun in a tuxedo, wearing snow white Adidas that I wasn’t supposed to get a speck of dirt on, all the while trying to yank my pants down over my shoes. (Now please don’t start picturing me wearing some pedal pushers or anything as rash as that, it’s just that the pants were not the length I was used to, and they kept bunching up around the top of my shoe.)

So we’re in the park, these photographer fucks asking me to smile on cue every thirty seconds. I can barely smile as it is, so asking me to smile for no reason whatsoever is damn near impossible. “Say something funny!” I said to Brandon. “Penis!” he shouted, and I nearly doubled over in laughter. “Ryan needs that juvenile humor,” explained Brandon.

The picture part was finally through, and we had two hours to kill until the ceremony. We holed ourselves up in a dinky little room in the church’s foyer and wondered what to do with ourselves. So we discussed the usual guy stuff, much of which included what a puckered asshole was (when someone gets nervous, it contracts into a tight little ball of some sort) Jeff claimed he had no puckered asshole at the moment. Jeff continued the discussion by telling us he was excited to see the “donkey show” on their honeymoon in Mexico. A donkey show being a show in which some sick Mexican woman gets violated by a donkey. (Further elaboration requires parental consent.) So there we sat, talking about sex, cursing in the church where a marriage was soon to be held, all within earshot of the pastor’s office in which he sat reading the Saturday paper. “I’m sure he’s been to a donkey show,” Brandon chimed in with a chuckle after we determined that ol’ Pastor Carl could hear every word we said. All the while, everyone within a reasonable distance was poking fun at Joe and I about our impending speech. I walked up and down the halls of the church, mumbling the words to myself, insisting in my head that I didn’t need to read off the paper, that I could do this, would do it, so just shut the fuck up, and stop your complaining! Joe refused to practice the speech with me, only going so far as to read it a few times. “I don’t need to practice it if I’m just going to read off the paper,” he said.

I was sure that I had the speech memorized well enough that I wouldn’t need the paper. However, I wasn’t sure that when I saw that sea of faces I’d be able to speak without stuttering or garbling a few of the words.

Fast forward to the ceremony. I tried to take it all in. The way the carpet was a faded and dusky color where it had been worn from years of sun and shoe. The flickering candles casting shadows on the wooden railing. The stained glass windows. I watched Ellen, her face, her eyes, her lips, her teeth. I saw how happy she was, and I wondered if it was the euphoria that every woman must feel on their wedding day. Why did she feel this way? Was she in love with Jeff? Or in love with the moment?

Everyone was offering congratulations after it was over. I thought I needed to. Felt that it was just something to be done. Began to make my way toward her, but a mass of people encircled her, and my opportunity was missed. Minutes later, I tried again, but this time I was interrupted by Jeff giving some tongue action to his new wife. Thanks a lot, bitch. I was 0 for 2.

A few more pictures after the ceremony, and then we were headed towards the reception. Holy shit. Mother fuck. I’d had a stitch growing in my side for the last few hours as my moment drew nearer. The reception was at a place called the Majestic. A large room with polished wooden floors and lofty ceilings. I needed beer. I needed to take the edge off, to lessen the fear that was creeping into my shoulders, my hands, the corners of my toes. I even managed to offer a pathetic “congratulations” to Ellen. I’m sure that made her day.

An hour passed. I was drinking cups of beer and chewing on the appetizers, shaking, and nervously laughing with friends lingering around me. The speech was all I could talk about. I looked around the hall, all the beautiful people whose eyes would soon be focused solely on me. “Ten minutes later, they won’t even remember,” insisted someone who was trying to comfort me. “I will! I’ll always remember!” I shouted. “You’ll be fine,” they said. “You have to say that!” I claimed “If I were you, I’d be saying the same thing!” Forty minutes later and I was bouncing off the walls. I was nice and buzzed now, and still nervous. I just wanted to get it over with. Be done with it. Do the speech, then flop down into my chair, and wallow in my own misery in a stench of failure. Joe was nervous, but he wasn’t showing it like I was, but then, a big beefy fellow like him can stay more composed then a skinny nail of a kid like me. He can use his thick skin to keep out the sickly cold that seems to ooze into my skin when I’m anxious.

Fast forward another half hour or so. By now I’d begun to lose track of time entirely.

Dinner was being served, and I gathered a few bits and pieces of vegetables and bread on my plate, although how I was I expected to enjoy the slop when I’d be lucky to keep it down? Nevertheless, I ate my share, gulped down another beer, and started bouncing off the walls again.

Then…

“In about ten minutes or so, we’ll start to pass out glasses of champagne and prepare for the toasts,” announced the DJ.

Holy bat shit and chicken-headed bongle juice! “I have to go to the bathroom!” I muttered and ran down the rickety steps to the bathroom in the basement.

Back up the stairs I came, ready for my destiny. Everything was a blur. “Joe, we’re starting this thing so be fucking ready,” I said. I walked up to the DJ and told him we needed to go first. He showed Joe and I how close to hold the mic. “Have you ever seen anyone as nervous as we are?” Joe asked. “Of yeah, but don’t worry, you guys will be fine,” he reassured us. God damn it! Once again some person was telling me it was all going to be fine!

Ten minutes passed. “I thought you said we were doing the toasts!” I started babbling to the DJ. “Just a minute, man, they’re still handing out all of the champagne glasses.” Next thing I new, the lights were dimmed down and the DJ made his way to the center of the floor. I started doing little circles around my chair. I couldn’t hear anything. I was in the zone! I heard the clapping. “You’re up!” Joe whispered. I walked to the center of the floor with no paper thank you very much. I was in the fucking zone, dude! I grabbed the mic, and did it. I made sure I talked slow, paused in the right places, and passed the mic to Joe when I was done. We had planned the speech to go as follows: I’d say a paragraph, he’d read a paragraph, I’d say a line, and he’d read the last paragraph.

Of course I can’t come all this way without letting you read the thing that damn near this whole entry has been about…

Me: We’ve known Jeff since high school, and for all that time, he’s always thought of himself as the hopeless romantic—the real ladies man. We weren’t sure if that was necessarily always the case. One of the earliest pieces of evidence we have confirming our beliefs comes from 1997 when we were juniors in high school, and Jeff was in peak form. In an attempt to impress his new crush, Jeff penned a series of anonymous poems and notes that he left around the school for her to find in some strange form of a scavenger hunt. Eventually the poems led her to the library, and it wasn’t coincidence that he chose the “T” encyclopedia (T for Thompson) and left the final poem on the same page as another Thompson, hoping she’d put two and two together and figure out his identity. She didn’t. So it was up to Joe to help Jeff lay it on a little thicker.

Joe: The next step could only be a dozen roses. Of course, it would be too obvious for Jeff to deliver the roses himself and end this whole guessing game, so he enlisted me to do it. So there I was. Sunday morning at 7 a.m., the girl’s father standing in his bathrobe looking none to happy. After a nice chat in which the father decided I was his daughter’s secret admirer, I was finally on my way.

Me: We’ll leave you wondering if Jeff ever got that girl.

Joe: Now Jeff’s days of wooing the ladies are over, and he’s finally found the one he’s been looking for all these years. We’re happy for the both of you, and are glad to be here to help celebrate this special occasion. Ellen, we’re glad that Jeff found someone who makes him so happy. We’re positive your love and compassion for each other will guarantee you a lifetime of happiness together. Cheers!

After I finished the first paragraph and gave Joe the mic, I walked back to the table, absolutely believing I had nailed it. I then realized Joe was finishing his first paragraph and that I need to go back out and say my last like. I did that, it got a nice laugh, and Joe finished us off. God damn, I never would have believed it. I was so proud of myself, and Joe (even though he had needed the paper, he had still managed to read slowly like I was hoping he would). I listened to the next three speeches. Ellen’s bridesmaid; Jaime, Ellen’s parents, and Jeff’s dad. I was waiting for Brandon to go up there and upstage everyone with one of his spontaneous and witty speeches, but he didn’t. I’m pretty sure it was because he knew we’d done well and he didn’t want people to remember his instead of ours. I think that was really decent of him. I told him as much, but he claimed he just hadn’t prepared a speech. I wasn’t so sure I was willing to believe that.

I think ours was the best of the lot, but who the fuck cares? Well, I do, that’s who. Lots of people congratulated us after all the toasts had been made, including Jeff and Ellen. She put her arm around me, but all I could mumble was a “thank you.” “You nailed it, nice fucking job,” complimented Jeff. I hope he meant it.

The dancing had started, but I didn’t want to do the money dance with Ellen. Joe did, but he’s more old school than me. Or maybe he just has more class. Probably the latter. Then again, he might have done it simply because he knew his wife Melissa would have insisted upon it, even though she wasn’t all too fond of Ellen herself. “At least go dance with Jeff!” prodded Melissa, being the supportive person she has always been. “NO!” I yelled, “ I don’t wanna!” I was being a baby, and I knew it. I couldn’t help it, though. It was so much easier to be immature about everything then be an adult and act as such. Melissa dragged Joe and I toward Jeff and we all danced around each other for a minute. “This is the last time it’ll ever be like this,” said Melissa. I felt dizzy.

I sat in a chair near the dance floor, lights, sounds, and colors all swirling past my eyes. Melissa dropped down beside me. It was sad, she said, that all this was happening, that things would be different now. Things would change. “Even Joe was getting a little teary-eyed,” she murmured sadly. The way her voice sounded at that moment did something to me. No longer did I have a few months, or weeks, or days, to come to grips with this change. No longer was I able to take my friendship for granted. This was the final day. And while it was true that Jeff would be back, he was only two hours away after all, things would be different. Jeff had always been the glue that had held Joe and I together, and without him, our threesome would fall apart. Two people I realized I had come to depend upon as family would be ripped apart. I stood up without a word and plodded across the dance floor, back down the red, wooden stairs to the bathroom in the basement.

Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I saw that my eyes were red. Thinking about it now, I wonder if they were bloodshot from the alcohol. Up until that time, I hadn’t felt any real emotion at Jeff’s leaving. I had spent time in front of my heater at home preparing myself for these final moments. I tugged on the skin under my eye, and I sniffled. What the fuck is wrong with me, I thought. I stared at my watery bloodshot eyes, and decided that the red was a symbol of the pain welling up inside me. I felt tears trickling down my face. I couldn’t fucking believe I was going to cry. Never before would I have thought it would have happened this way. I’ve shown emotion in front of Jeff and Joe before, but never sadness, I’ve never let on that something could affect me in this way.

I stumbled out of the bathroom and down the dimly lit corridor, my Adidas padding along the orange speckled tile. I was starting to lose all control. I couldn’t stop the tears. Unbelievable. But now I didn’t want to stop the tears. I wanted to cry. I wanted everyone to see the hurt on my face and comfort me, wrap their arms around me, and tell me things would be okay, even if they knew things never would.

I heard Melissa yelling at me from the top of the basement stairs! “Ryan!” I ignored her at first. I can’t let her see me cry. I can’t. She kept calling, something about the photographers wanting to take a last picture of Jeff, Joe, and I, and eventually I wandered out from some random corridor to face her. “Now you made me cry too!” I half laughed half sobbed. “Oh no,” she said, or something to that effect. I was barely listening. I made my way back down the corridor, hoping no one else would see me. I knew Jeff would be coming down soon. At least I thought he would, hoped he would. I wanted him to see me crying, to see how much I really did love him, but another part of me wanted no such thing. He’s moving on, and I’m left behind. He has a new life, and my life is broken. I don’t want him to know how much I depended on him.

I heard the pounding of feet on the stairs, and Jeff and Joe were there. They were surprised, I’m sure, though I’m never sure how they really felt. I was laughing and crying, trying to compose myself. Jeff hugged me, “I’ll be back,” he said. “No you won’t. Everything’s changed. Everything.” I was glad that Jeff could see me cry. But I felt selfish, like I wanted the attention for myself on Jeff’s most important day. I didn’t feel like it was fair. I know it wasn’t fair.

I don’t remember what Jeff’s last words to me were before he walked back up the stairs. All I remember is telling Joe to go back, go back, I just needed a second. After they had both left, I sat in a heap on the floor, staring at myself in a mirror on the opposite wall.

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Sunday, October 10th, 2004
6:34 pm - sleep
Someday my lifeless body will come to rest on the floor of my home. It will slowly decompose. The stink of death will begin to permeate the air. How long before people begin to ask questions? Will the body only be found after the rent has not been paid?

I imagine a time when everything I have come to know will be gone. Memories only a blur…faces only shadows in the dark…all final moments before I sink into endlessness. Into a murk as thick as mud. What lies beyond is hopelessly frightening.

My body will be still. My heart, my mind, my voice, will be gone, and my name will be but a speck on a list that fades into forever.

current music: heroes & villains

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Saturday, October 9th, 2004
7:13 pm - click here
I could go out to the store. Why? Dunno. Buy something, so that for a couple minutes I'll have that elation that always comes from making a new purchase. And for those brief moments, I'll be glad I'm out, even if it is raining, and the traffic is miserable, even if the thing I've bought will be just another "something" that eventually lines my shelves. Quickly the moment will pass, and as I'm driving home, with the plastic bag nestled beside me on the seat, I'll wonder if the purchase was really necessary, or was it simply meant to divert my attention...meant to subude my unjustifiable loneliness. I feel lonely, yet loneliness is something I accept. It's not that I want to be anywhere else, yet I still can't help but feel the need to be wanted. Though I long to be needed, the feeling usually passes almost as quickly as that unlikely someone reaches out.

Time and time again I wonder what I'd rather be doing if I wasn't doing "this," and never can I think of much that seems within reason. I know there are those who would claim that anything is within reason, that anything can be attained if only you work hard enough. I don't know if that's true, though I do know I'd rather just sit back and ponder if I should even get in the car.

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Sunday, October 3rd, 2004
5:59 pm - Dedicated to Orange Kitty
I have a tummy ache. Ever since last night I ate this entire frozen pizza. The freschetta kind. Very tasty, and went quite well with a King of Queens rerun, and it's not like I have never stuffed my face before and felt fine afterward. However, this time I seem to have met my match. The stupidest thing is I keep eating more to try and combat the pains. It is like I am using some archaic form of reverse psychology on my stomach. Well, as long as I can make it through the night without throwing up, I will be satisfied.

Tomorrow begins another week of teaching...it is very strange to reflect on having a full-time position. I wish I never had to work. If I never had to work, I would spend my time hiking around in the mountains and buying new cds which I would listen to en route to the mountains. I always love this time of year because it is when the most new albums come out...all in time for the Christmas season when people buy albums as gifts just because they have to buy something. New Rufus Wainwright! What a delight! Well, not for a month and a half...but half the fun is the anticipation.

I can't believe that Novemeber 2nd is almost here...I watched the debates last week, and actually started talking smack to the tv screen. I'm surprised I even care. (Who are you kidding? I care because I am tired of smug republicans.) But god, Kerry, did you have to kiss your ugly-bugly wife at the end? Did you learn nothing from Al & Tipper's blunder from the last election? A country so divided that in a months time, half the population of America will be very upset. Anyway, I am nowehere near informed enough to be discussing politics in my Van Smack journal.

I think I will take a shower soon. Maybe that will make my tum feel better. Then I will drink some raspberry lemonade and read a book. Yes, the times will be fine until I have to go back to work. Bah Humbug.

current music: Brian Wilson...Smile

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Sunday, September 26th, 2004
7:53 pm - void
i walked across an open field today...grass worn down beneath my shoes...barren apartments, ancient middle school, gray cement streets. all of it was empty. a rabbit was grazing beside some blackberry bushes. i stared at it, wondering what its life meant, what it thought, what mattered. (hazel?)

continued walking, my arms felt heavy at my sides, the hazy air felt warm on my face. my shoes scuffed at the dry earth as i passed over it, everything seeming so deserted. the sounds of cars were a distant hum, a random voice seemed alone if the fall air. even in my most occupied times, i feel like i'm standing outside of my body looking at it like i was somehow separated from it. my voice not my own. walking onward, and walking nowhere at the same time. everyone thinks that their life has meaning...i'd argue that they're all just looking for definition in a world that deems them all expendable.

current music: still green day

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Saturday, September 25th, 2004
6:05 pm - Choose or Lose
I’m drawn to the drama of a misunderstanding. Yet this time the drama is not something that’ll ever be resolved. What is set to happen will happen regardless of how bitter I become and how much I hurt those I care about.

I’ve been thinking lately how easy it is to be close-minded and choose to hate. Choose not to be accepting. It’s so much harder to love and accept things that may not always align with one’s wants and beliefs. I can stand back from myself and see how plainly I have chosen the former. What amazes me the most is that I fully comprehend that I’m choosing to hate rather than accept and can live with this decision while I loathe other close-minded people for whatever old-fashioned ideals they hold.

I know that everything has an end, but in this case, the end was not foreseen and has pushed me completely into some form of denial. I choose to deal with this problem by building a wall around myself refusing to cope by any means of communication, instead pushing my friend farther away. However, even though I see this happening right in front of me, another part of me chooses not to care. Why should I care? In a few months time this friend will no longer be here for me whether I hate him now, later, or never. I could embrace his decision and share these last few months with him as many would probably see fit, but I won’t. The friendship that we’ve built for the last seven years can no longer go forward. From this point forth, no new memories will be made, instead we’ll simply speak of memories from ago.

Then our lives will break apart and I’ll begin by seeing him six times a year. Then a date will be broken, and the next year I’ll see him three times. Then it will dwindle to two times…short…for a drink or two where we will talk about things from a time I will have long forgotten.

I want to hate, I want to make him feel the way I do. It’s the only way I know how.

In the back doors of my mind, I’ve always built defenses to deal with particular depressions that may arise…I just never thought I’d need one for this…and I wasn’t ready…not even close.

current music: green day

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