Remembering Nashville And How I Almost Died in Florida
Today I drove through a Nashville neighborhood where I used to live. The old house I once rented there had a decent-sized yard that my now ten-year-old dog, Jolene, was potty-trained on. The outside steel steps would ice in the winter and I had to carry my clothes downstairs and into an outside closet to do laundry. It was a chaotic time in my life where I had no direction and my future was hopefully not too far away. I had hoped I would drink myself to death before ever becoming an “adult.”
I was 28 years-old with two hundred dollars to my name in an unfamiliar city. But, anything was better than being where I was before. I would have definitely ended my life if I had stayed in my hometown any longer. In fact, months before I left, I went out into the woods on my birthday with every intention of calling it quits.
I had a friend drop me off at the entrance of the state park. I told her I would call for a ride in a couple of days.
“Don’t make me regret dropping you off,” she said to me at the entrance gate.
“It’s only a couple of days,” I said with a wave as I turned around to walk down the dirt road.
That is an interaction I will never forget. It was what I thought would have been my last. That night I carved my name, the month, and day of my birth — the date — into an out-of-place wooden bench at a primitive campsite. It would have also been a way for anyone who found me to know how long I had been out there.
My first night was meant for me to write down all the things I felt I had to apologize for. All I could hear was a constant hum of millions of mosquitos that were thriving in the Florida underbrush. My fire was dying so I threw in the paper with every wrong I had committed. It was my hope that the smoke would carry those wrongs into the next world to soften my landing when I made it through.
That night changed everything. The mosquitos kept me awake in the tarp hammock I tied between two trees. I screamed “HELP ME!” into the darkness of the marsh. I had open-eye hallucinations of cows standing in a field with a bald eagle flying over me while I walked down a dirt path. It was the longest night of my life, yet, I could not bring myself to do what I had come out there to do.
If I had found the end in that Florida park, I would not have driven through my old Nashville neighborhood today. That decrepit house has since been torn down and a mansion now stands in its place. There is no yard for a dog to be potty-trained in. There are no steel steps on the outside. I also did not drink myself to death. Instead, I quit drinking.
These days I struggle with accepting the life that I deserve. My dreams feel impossible to achieve. I am thoughtlessly chasing a higher income because I am tired of being stuck, and all it is doing is making me tired of not accomplishing any progress. I have made poor decisions and now I am feeling the full strike of the swing of those decisions. I often feel like I am going to die before doing any of the things I want. I even wrote a song years ago to capture this:
It gets difficult to see that I am going somewhere. That I will be something. Someone. That I will see the Alps.
Then I must remember that I once sat in the woods with the end in mind, but didn’t end it. And months later I moved to an unfamiliar place where I have grown more than I saw for myself. And, ten years later, I get to drive through that neighborhood and remind myself of all the walks I took Jolene on through the alleys.
I am fortunate to have a love who is patient with me. She lifts me and challenges me. It is often difficult to see that reflection of myself and I am grateful for the opportunity. We help each other grow through childhood traumas.
Jolene is healthy. I am in the best shape of my life. I have my own apartment and a car to drive. I graduated from college at 38 years-old with a 3.7 GPA, while working full-time and attending classes full-time. I work at one of the top research hospitals in the nation doing meaningful work. Yet, I still want more. The desire to continue to grow and want more is likely never disappearing. The difficult, and most important, part is to remind myself of where I came from, what I have accomplished, and what actionable steps I am now taking to achieve my goals.
In ten more years I hope to drive by this apartment with my partner beside me. When we pass it slowly I will ask her if she remembers helping me move in. She will likely make a joke about how flustered I was. I will talk about how much Jolene kept me afloat and how she was with me through some of the most difficult and lonely times in my life. My partner will say Jolene loved me very much and that I have come so far since.