By Over50badass Mark St. Jean
We had a big snow storm last night. I looked out the window around 9am and saw my neighbor across the street outside with his wife and teenage son working on shoveling. A moment later I heard yelling and looked back out. The father was screaming at his son over the job he did on the stairs. Hands and arms shaking in frustration. His wife just looking on as his son stood there, he spoke back a couple times also frustrated, but it only enraged the father who went to the stairs banging his shovel on them in some example or demonstration. He threw the shovel down when he stopped yelling and the son walked back into the house in defeat.
It reminded me of myself some 15 years ago. My first thought was to go out and talk with him and explain that I understood his anger and somehow also explain it was unnecessary to yell like that. When I lived in Tennessee my neighbor did this with me one day. I didn’t realize he had likely heard me from outside yelling at my wife inside the house and I thought he was just revealing something he had been through. In my arrogance and blindness to my own, I offered an ear to his troubles. He was older than me and we had just finished mowing our lawns simultaneously. We had developed a friendship doing this over the 1st summer he moved in.
Quite sometime after that I realized he was actually telling me about myself.
A year or so later, he had moved away and I was sitting on my lawn mower in the yard with the engine running, sitting there thinking. The house I never thought I would be able to own, has my name on the deed. There’s five dogs running around in the back yard. We put the fence in for the one dog we had when we bought the house and then moved in. Now there are 5 dogs in the family and I’m not allowed to go to the pet store on Saturdays anymore. I’m a dad and a husband and we are the St. Jeans.
I don’t hear any sound in this paused moment, my feelings are non-existent. My mind is wandering to the sound of the mower engine as I think back. I spent my childhood in one house; it was a duplex. I lived with my Mom, grandmother and brother. My father left when I was 5. I had a wonderful childhood with lots of friends and toys and I was never hungry or felt I missed out on anything. I’m not a victim of a bad childhood. One negative thing I learned there was to yell, if I was louder and yelled longer than the person yelling at me, I would be heard and likely the conflict would come to a close. I remember thinking the silence that followed was a win. As I approached 21, my mother was moving and she had already found another place. I guess it was time to move out.
I realized for maybe the first time, things will never be the same.
My mind still wandering from the seat of the lawnmower; After moving out of my childhood home I stayed with people I knew for short periods of time. Most of that 2nd year I was just living in a van I bought for 50 bucks. I just didn’t know the first thing about getting anything together that I would need to get an apartment. I was only existing.
Then I met a girl, I was a roofer and we got an apartment. I was living with my first real love in my first apartment. However, less than a year later of fighting and yelling and ugliness, I came home from work one day and she’s gone. I had never cared so much for someone. Why didn’t she see what she meant to me? Love somehow meant yelling in my head. It did not to her or most people as it turns out. My anger unbeknownst to me was becoming a real problem, but it would get worse as life went forward. I was still convinced it was a strength.
The day of my break up with my first love, my buddy came over to tell me he was leaving for the Amy in two weeks. After seeing me in my “woe is me” condition he went and talked to his recruiter who said I could go in the Army with him, I just have to make that decision right now. In an instant I decided yes. Things will never be the same.
The Army taught me volumes of things about myself and my capabilities both physically and mentally. I ran five miles at a time and did countless push ups. Physical things I was never really good at in school I was somehow becoming good at them. I had a mental toughness that the other kids didn’t have in basic. I was 23 when I went in, they were all younger which may explain the difference on some level. It was a bit comical to me that some of the kids in basic training were having such a hard time with the weather, the mud and just being outside for three to five days. I kinda prepared for all this stuff back home the prior year.
I felt a pretty sad when basic training was over, tearful even. Not because I didn’t have a home to go to, or back home as everyone referred to it. I was sad over the loss of structure that I eventually found to be a warm blanket of comfort. I remember staring out the window of the barracks down onto the field where we all got off the cattle trucks on day one. That was a day of fear that stays fresh in your mind. Getting through it filled you with belief in yourself. At the end of basic I realized I liked having a drill sergeant push me and show me what I was capable of. One negative side effect of that for me was it reinforced the idea that yelling is good. I remember not being shaken by the yelling, it just drove me to be better at things. In the Army yelling is motivation.
I looked up to these people who yelled.
I left Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri and spent 20 weeks in Maryland at the Army training center in Aberdeen. It was quite the experience, but the day came for me to go back to New England. I didn’t have a place to stay and my stuff was in storage. Eventually I found someone to get an apartment with and we moved in. I got all my stuff from storage which is not much more than a drum set and a few boxes. Afterwards some friends swing by with some of their extra furniture, I have populated an apartment. This is another new beginning for me, I’m an Army reservist.
I got back home from a two week duty with the reserves and start walking up to my apartment. I can see from the sidewalk outside that my door is open and the light from the hall is shining through. I thought that was strange. Why would my roommate leave the door open like that? I was dropped off because I didn’t have a car yet, and had received a ride from the base and back. I walked into the apartment and there was no furniture in the kitchen or the living room. It’s gone and all my papers and belongings are scattered around the apartment. I instantly ran into my bedroom hoping to find my drums still there. Of course, the pit of empty feeling was confirmed, they were gone too, along with my guitar. My bed was gone, my dresser is gone and the clothes from the drawers are dumped on the floor some still folded. The roommate is gone too.
I had two army issue duffle bags with me, one folded up inside the other along with a few items and my dirty clothes from my trip. Standing in the center of the living room feeling empty inside and lost, I pulled the empty duffle bag out of the other one as the cold feeling washed down my body from head to toe and I start filling the two duffle bags with some things I don’t want to let go of. This was the last stop for my record collection that wasn’t stolen, which consisted of about 100 albums in a few milk crates. The album covers had my teenage finger prints embedded in them from hours of holding them while listening to the music infused in the vinyl. The print in some places worn away to the paper underneath, they were important to me and I still feel the loss of them 30 years later.
I couldn’t carry them so I had to let them go.
I walked downstairs with a sick feeling in my stomach never seeing a single person on the way out of the building and down the road to the highway. I started thumbing south to Lowell MA. I have a friend in Lowell who will take me in. Each car that passed as my thumb asked for a ride only reinforced how alone I was in that moment, headlights seemingly looked away as they passed. That was the closing of a big chapter for me, I let go of a lot this time.
I spent a year or two in Lowell, one summer in a school bus with the friend who lost his place just after I arrived with my duffle bags. He was happy to have the company and we stayed at a camp ground. I eventually left Lowell and went to New Hampshire. I got an apartment and again filled it with furniture, pictures and what would become my stuff, for a while anyway. I spent 4 years in that apartment which was a record stay for me at the time. Not much changed in me internally in those years, it however was a feeling of roots for a bit. One day I found out the owner was selling the condo I lived in, so I put a sign on my car that said moving sale. It was a Saturday and for two days I had people walk through my apartment and bid on my things. I had a pile of things in the corner of my living room that I stood in front of, covered by a tarp I would keep them for the trip to Florida which is where I decided to go. If it became the year I stayed in Florida, I was ok with that. I took what would fit in my car after the two days and I tossed the rest in the dumpster. I left for Florida with two grand in my pocket and my stuff inside the car or tied to the roof. Letting go of possessions had become easy for me. Leaving home had become easy as well. Lessons existed in both, yet I only recognized them as an easy thing to do.
The importance and benefits of letting go was not something I would realize until later.
Year two in Florida is where I met my wife. We’ve been together 8 years in total. I’ve been in deep thought out here on my lawn, but it’s time to go in. It’s too dark to work on the lawn anymore. I find myself back in the house after cleaning up the yard and putting away my lawnmower. My wife comes in the living room and sits down. She looks at me with the results of thought in her eyes and a look of no compromise. After she talks to me, my marriage is over. Things will never be the same.
Crushed at the thought of losing the successful life I had, by society’s checklist anyway. The loss is huge in this event and I spent many days in full tears hysterically crying over it. The biggest lesson wouldn’t be realized until some years later; During my marriage, I was the ugliest version of me I had ever been. Anger is one of the biggest regrets I will ever have and one of the hardest lessons I ever learned.
After leaving that house, I never yelled at anyone like that again. The yelling my family heard has never been heard by anyone else. Nor will I accept it from anyone. My marriage wasn’t a one sided monster, there was plenty of conflict fueled by both sides, but I take my share of the blame for it. My wife’s family was a yelling family as well and she was as well versed in how to win an argument as I was. Some of ours would go on for hours and into days.
Another lesson; no one wins an argument.
I left Tennessee and when I got home to New England that first year after my divorce, I eventually got into another relationship that resulted in living together. Almost 6 years in total with two breaks along the way. I never really moved in, my stuff stayed in the basement in boxes. Maybe that should have been a sign. On that second break I was again staying at a friends house. I asked him about his therapist he had mentioned. He gave me the information and I decided to go. The therapist asked why I was there. I said: “I’ve had two long term relationships that haven’t worked out and I have to believe I’m at least 50% of the reason”. I went for a summer, two times a week. She was incredibly helpful and revealed a lot to me. I cried hard more than one session in that little office over my lost self. The therapist also introduced me to mindfulness meditation to help with the anxiety that I had developed. This is what started my investigation of myself. It helped me create a place that only cares about me being kind to myself and in turn better to those around me. It is self-serving but it’s not selfish. Mindfulness meditation is a doorway. I suggest walking through it. I promise you, things will never be the same.
I moved back in with my girlfriend one more time. I felt good about moving back in and I had some skills in the self-help area; I was different. I thought it was the key to the problems we had. Ultimately I had changed, I was no longer judging myself through her eyes or anyone else’s. When I did look at myself through her eyes, I knew I wasn’t going to be happy there. A few months later we broke up for the final time. Realizing how I had been judging myself through other people was the beginning of my life again.
At 50 years old, I realize happy is my responsibility. Things will never be the same.
With a pick-up truck full of tools, musical instruments, some boxes I had never unpacked from my marriage that ended in Tennessee and a lawn chair, I moved into this apartment I’m in now. It’s a few blocks from the house I grew up in until the age of 21.
I remember the day I looked at that lawn chair in the living room as I sat on the floor in the otherwise empty room. I was so excited to be in my own space. I took a deep breath and stood up. When I sat in the lawn chair and very slowly pushed back into it, my feet raised and I had the most elated feeling as weight lifted off my chest. I had nothing in the room with me yet I was happy.
I brought happiness into my life with the understanding of many things I’ve read or listened to. My therapist, Alan Watts, Pema Chodron, my neighbor and many others. I’ve had so many endings and beginnings I cant even count them. I’ve let go of many things over the years and all of that gives me a perspective that everything really is temporary. The better you can accept temporary as the most consistent element of life, it somehow makes life easier.
I’ve grown more in the last 6 years than I did in the previous fifty. Life starts at 50 someone said; I know it took me that long to figure out I had to become the source of my happiness. I focused all my years prior on other people’s opinions of me, Their happiness and expectations of me. I left no room for my opinion of me. When you fail others expectations you become angry with yourself and show it outwardly. When you fail your own expectations you work on yourself. I’ve climbed some mountains physically and mentally. I ran a Spartan endurance race to see if I could. A sprint, It was tough and I highly recommend it for anyones self esteem.
Working on myself has been my most purposeful pursuit. It’s what happiness is for me. Happiness is not a place you go to, it’s not a collection of items or people. It’s simply present in the work one does on themselves. Blaming others or the world for your pain and frustrations is the opposite of happiness. You’ll never be happy if you’re busy pointing out the reasons you’re not. You cant avoid or change these things, because they will keep showing up. You have to change how you react to them.
My neighbor back in Tennessee gave me a gift on the lawn that day, before he moved away. I just hadn’t opened it. I’m not close with my neighbor across the street here, who was yelling this morning. In fact we really don’t care for each other from what I can gather to be honest. We have a “stay on your side of the street” relationship without ever having spoken about it. I am fairly convinced he wouldn’t understand why I would approach him with such advice about anger or my perspective on it. He gained my empathy today.
I’m the older guy this time, I don’t know if it’s natural to take this long to learn the things I have, but I do know I have many more things to learn. I don’t get angry like I used to anymore. I still have frustrations in my life, but it’s much shorter lived interruption and more easily redirected.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve been a raging maniac my whole life or that anyone who has anger issues is. I’m very likable, friendly, funny and ridiculously handsome on Monday’s and Thursdays. Anger was and is present in my life, I just have to be the master and not allow it to be mine. It took away the joy from those closest to me. That’s who gets those dark parts of us, the ones who love us the most. That is the most unbearable and regretful truth and the saddest tragedy and beyond my ability to express it any other way, I am sorry
In the saddest times I had, I’ve learned that no matter the loss, life for you can continue. It will be different, but it will continue and happiness can be part of it again so don’t give up. This is the most important thing to remember if you’ve read this far.
Don’t give up. I almost did, I’m grateful to still be here.
My hope is someone who needs this, reads it and recognizes something of themselves and starts the work. It’s not the outside world that is causing your rage, it’s not your spouse or your kids. It’s not the people you work with and it’s not the guy who passed you on the drive home. It’s very complicated and I recommend therapy and honesty as the beginning of the process.
You are the one who has to change to fix it.
With a bit of help, some work, some time and acceptance;
Things will never be the same.