I know death well.
Like some damned Divine Comedy, I’ve been through Hell. That dark, fiery, sulfur stinking, lifeless place. And for a long time it seemed like the fate of myself would be that of my parents; self-induced, or by the powers that be who deemed me unworthy to truly live.
I’ve met despair, who caressed my face in a shadowy comfort, enticing me to a darkness of a black hole like existence in which no light would be allowed.
It is much easier to give up all hope than it is to stage an internal coup d’tat to overthrow Depression, the bastard that attempts to rule you in these times.
When all is crumbling around you, it is still possible to climb your way out of the abyss.
I want to share something extremely personal, but incredibly important, so I can hopefully help you, or anyone else that have been through similar circumstances, or any hardships that make you feel like there is no hope in life.
This is not a realm I like to venture into, memories so far repressed that they seem like a movie reel missing pieces, but it is time to face these things and to give you ammo for courage.
Very recently was the anniversary of the death of my father, and as always, it has been on my mind quite a bit while leading up to my trip to Thailand.
Nothing I say will be able to solve the problems or obstacles you may face, but maybe in the least it will help you stay strong and keep believing that you can do whatever it is you want to in life.
To live your dream, be it traveling the world or not.
So I will begin with something that most people, even people very close to me, do not know. It is a shame, but the course my life has taken until the past few years has made my feelings impermeable to others. Though sometimes I am able to share it to you all through writing.
The only reason I feel the need to include these details is for you to know that I mean what I say when I tell you that it can get better, and that you can live your dream and travel the world if you want.
You gotta’ want it bad though. So bad that you will claw your way through it all. But it is possible.
In the early years of high school my mother committed suicide. It was completely unexpected and rocked my entire world, and I still repress it somewhat.
I remember one of those hot summer days playing football in my yard as a young boy when a bearded man in a pick-up truck drove by my house and yelled out his window, “Your mother is dead!”
He laughed after yelling this, and then drove off.
You see, at the time I didn’t know he was being literal, I just thought he meant my mother was in trouble with the law.
I’ve re-constructed the scenario over and over in my head, and even wrote a movie script to try to explain it to myself better. I even wrote in a note to me and my brother where she explains her reasoning, and says signs, “I love you.”
But there was no death note and no explanation. Just nothingness like the way I felt.
I remember crying my eyes out for a week straight. My mother doesn’t have a gravestone yet so I have no reference, and I cannot help but feeling terrible for forgetting.
I was considered the “Mommas Boy” because I would still want to see her after my parents split up since my brother denied all accounts of my father beating her and sided with him. I was the brainwashed child. But I stopped visiting her for a few months because my father was getting on my case more and more.
For a long time I blamed myself for my mother’s death, thinking I was the reason she hung herself because I stopped coming to visit her.
The years before my mother’s death, my family had been the perfect portrayal of a broken home. My father and mother split up because he abused her, and she would bounce from place to place trying to find somewhere to live. She would fall from job to job, and there were mumblings that she was using drugs again.
There were always mumblings she was doing drugs again.
That is how my parents met, my father was a drug dealer and my mother was buying drugs. Yet, my father would always deny that part of his life, and would try to convince me to ignore my mother.
My minister always described my mother as the strongest and weakest woman in the world, but she always told me she would never leave us because she could never hurt us that way.
And I’ve felt a fiery something…be it frustration…or hate…or hurt…because she left when she said she wouldn’t. Because of that mother fucker who drove by and yelled. Because I wasn’t there for her.
But I was young then, and still had a stable ground under me and a home. Even if part of me was ripped away.
Fast forward to summer of 2008.
The bright July sun beamed through my shades. It must have been hot, because the summer cicadas hissed loud outside. My dry eyes peeled open as I licked my chapped lips. The stale taste of beer was still apparent, and the ringing in my head spelled out a horrible hangover.
I had been out all night at my brother’s friends bonfire kicking back brewskies and playing beer-pong until the wee hours of the morning when we all got home and passed out.
My best friend was rapping on the door for me to open up. We were going to shoot some film that day, so I rolled out of bed and got dressed. I let him in, grabbed our scripts and gear to go shooting, and headed for the front door. Then, I stopped before walking out the front door and told my friend I was going to grab a couple sodas from the deck.
And that is when my life changed forever. Again.
At first glance I thought he was just adding some more flare to his beloved deck, a place where he would sit everyday, and sometimes sleep at night.
“Hey dad, I’m going to go film some stuff!”
But when he didn’t respond, I turned back around and noticed his lifeless body, belly down, slumped face first into the railing.
My own scream still haunts me to that day. I ran to my father and yelled for my friend Tony.
I struggled trying to pull my father’s 275lb body upright as I screamed and mewed, wishing I had super-human strength to lift him. When my friend emerged from the screen door, his face said it all.
“Call 911!” I screamed out to him, finally rolling my father onto his back.
I know what death looks like and smells like. It has been seared into my brain. And when I see colors that match those from this day, I’ve always had flashbacks.
Some people might see yellows and purples and think flowers. Or blue and think a beautiful sky. But not me, not for a long time.
Not until I started living again.
The sight of death is something I would never wish upon anyone else. His face was swollen and bruised, dotted purple and yellow. He was biting his tongue which had turned a deep blue. He felt clammy, smelled like an ashtray, and was stiff like a block of hard rubber.
I sat him up and ran into the kitchen to grab a spoon, with some fools hope he was still able to be saved. I could hear the sirens at this point as I ran back to him and began trying to pry open his mouth. At last I was able to get the spoon in and open his mouth.
And there was a breath!
My heart sang as a rancid breath escaped him, like stale margarita, and for a second I thought he would start coughing and gasping for air. And then a wasp crawled out of his mouth and flew away. He was in my arms and I was balling with tears and telling him to breathe when the EMT’s arrived.
I remember the first on the scene was a beautiful brown-haired EMT with bright blue eyes, and I remember her looking at my father, then me, and shaking her head.
She just shook her head, like an angel giving a death sentence, and I screamed like an animal and didn’t want to let go as they pulled me away.
In the early hours of the morning he had a heart attack, the day after he visited the doctor and she said he desperately needed to stop smoking and change his diet. That night he ate a salad for dinner, and we used to joke that the salad was what killed him.
I was the only one who saw him when he died.
My brother had arrived later on and they wouldn’t let him see him. We were forced to have a closed casket funeral as well because the summer sun was harsh that day, and it was too intense for people to see.
The days passed and I went through a period of falling asleep drunk, waking up drunk, and drinking again. I remember waking up one day on the deck, hungover in the hot sun, just as I had found my father.
I knew what I was doing was not helping, but it made me forget and helped me cope with the constant fog I felt like I was in. I could see the road ahead for a few feet, but everything was dark.
That sweet serenity of hopelessness. Ever since that day I’ve struggled with emotional highs and lows. I’ve struggled with a monster inside, alcoholism, that is programmed into me to drink myself into to oblivion. I’ve struggled with the fact that I can’t seem to make real connections with people, can’t “feel” anything sometimes, and it affects the way I treat even the family I still have.
But travel has been my savior.
Not fully, not wholeheartedly, not the cure-all for what ails me. But it has given me a hope, something I can feel in my heart and gut.
I can now see red roses, and blue skies, and purple flowers, and golden fields for what they are.
When you feel hopeless, and you trap yourself with “cures” like alcohol, drugs, sex, possessions, and the like to make things go away, or excuses about why the world is against you, you attract negative energy that feeds on your state of mind. It is that creature in the dark waiting for a chance to rule you.
It may numb you to what is actually going on, but it will never help you. It will push you further away from your dream. Further away into nothingness.
“There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I’m one”
– The Animals
Right now I am sitting in an apartment choking up while writing this. Tears are fogging my eyes because it’s hard for me to open up and remember these things.
I have been sleeping on a friends couch for the last month, and I will be for the next 3 months. Why do I not feel like a failure anymore? Because I am sleeping on a couch to help save money for my trip to Southeast Asia this November.
Why am I not unhappy working a job serving tables at a restaurant just like before? Because it is for something amazing on the horizon.
That is what travel has changed. For a long time I didn’t feel worthy enough for anything better. I was to grow old, broke, and drowning in bills, working at a job I hated until I could never retire, and die.
I had always dreamed about travel, but it always seemed unrealistic only because I chose to believe it was. A lot of my friends who don’t even know about some of the struggles of my past even say, “I wish I could travel the world” like it is some crazy thought.
Except I am yet again on the cusp of an adventure, and just the thought of it makes me smile.
This is what I want; to travel the world, to see lands I could never believe existed, to have my soul exposed and naked in a foreign culture, to let strangers into my life, to taste the flavors unknown, to learn to feel again, to hike tall mountains, traverse vast plains, and wander into the unknown.
But this unknown travel provides isn’t into the nothingness, but my path to happiness.
And I fought to get here.
When I first took my maiden journey abroad in 2011 to New Zealand, it had been after a period in my life where I was unhappy, hated my job, and always made excuses for my mis-steps.
But the day I received my passport, the first ever in my family, and took off for my trip, I felt alive.
I had traveled before across the USA, and even worked on a cruise ship in Hawaii. But up until New Zealand I had just been running.
Everyone can live their dream and travel the world no matter what struggles you have faced. The only way to change your life and situation is to believe in your dream and act on it.
ACT ON IT!
If you have lost like I have, and feel like your life has been crippled, you can go on.
The only way to actually do it is to keep moving forward, not standing still in time lost in a fog. My parents were great people, but there lives were broken ones early on. And I chose not to live a broken life anymore.
If you look for stability in the form of a “normal” job than that is all you will find. From my own personal experience, and after my father passed, I felt a sudden urge to start a career. Everything that I had known and relied on had gone, and I felt I needed to replace it with something. Careers are fine, but make sure it is something you are passionate and dedicated about.
Some ways I found to help me past those tough times
-Surround yourself with positive and energetic people.
Hang out with friends that will encourage your passion. Become dedicated to your goal. If you want to travel the world, make damn sure you save every penny and don’t go blowing it in local bars every night after work.
-Start living your dream!
After I decided I would leave my old life behind for the one I wanted, I began researching about travel and backpacking. I would wander around to places I had never been locally and meet new people. It got me excited and much more serious about what I was doing.
It’ll be really hard sometimes to think that there is escape from this sick cycle, but you will be the only one that can change it. I had a broken childhood, but I never got into drugs. My parents were chain smokers but I never picked up a cigarette.
Point is, don’t just take the cards that have been dealt to you. Pick up the cards and reshuffle them and become the dealer. I don’t believe in fate, and if I did, my fate will be what I make. Yes, that was a Terminator reference as well.
Stand your ground traveler, nothing shall weaken your lion heart.
In memory on my Father and Mother.
To my father, I wrote this after his death:
Though my last words to you, I could not utter
I know that our bond will never be severed
Now in heaven making drinks for the “Big Guy”
The lessons you taught me help me to survive
Now I’m off to take on the world
Your wind is at my back, my sails unfurled.
NOTE: If you have read this far, just know that my parents were amazing people, they just lived broken lives early on.
- My father was one of the hardest working men I have ever known. He broke his back everyday to provide for us, and he gave me my rock hard resolve and work ethic.
- My mother was amazing, and she would challenge me to live my dream no matter what. She was tender and kind, and worried too often about other people instead of herself.
- My brother, though we have a distanced relationship now, is still a pillar of strength for me.