The morning is too bright even for black sunglasses. Everything comes with a glare and my eyes squint behind Ray-Bans. I’m still buzzed from the night before, from bartending and drinking shots of whiskey with any customer too drunk to decline. I think I got four phone numbers last night. Girls love a guy who will pour them vodka on command.
Boston is hot and sticky by ten in the morning. I am newly single and fumble through my phone for Janine’s number, the blonde with the thick east coast accent and a Boston Red Sox tattoo just below her belt line. I would head to East Boston after hitting up the liquor store, and we would drink India Pale Ale until we were brave enough to speak only in limbs.
I’m 26 and divorced, and though the last year has been my undoing, like yarn that drops and spins loose string by string, my life has still found moments of celebration. I’ve decided nothing exists without tension, without hurried words of loss on the blunt face of a sledgehammer. My anger has me drink just to keep pace with the emotions that are slowly leaving me empty, and my moments of fighting are beginning to turn into moments of hibernation, where everything feels either lost or undone.
What’s to celebrate, you ask? Well, this Montana boy made it all the way to Boston on his own, attended Berklee College of Music and now, as of a few days earlier, has been accepted to every graduate program he applied to. I think I’ll choose Vermont College but the University of New Hampshire probably has more young, single girls for me to choose from. Not bad for a drunk, for the first member of his family not to become a doctor, engineer, or scientist. You want to play music? You want to write poetry?? I can still feel my father’s scornful voice ask as he removed his glasses from his nose. His disdain poured right into me. I knew I could never come back home.
Ten years later and I am back home. I am a Professor and teach writing and literature at Montana State University-Billings. I also have two young children that call me daddy whenever they see my eyes search the ground or a smile disappear into my face. My daughter gives me orders and provides instruction in the early mornings while I prepare them for school, still hung over from a night of bourbon drinking and reading Keats, a new found depression I will consolidate and later reveal as my own. My son holds my hand when we cross the street and he tells me he loves me before skipping away to the first grade. How did I end up here? How did my life suddenly and decidedly take such a tight, right turn?
I am nowhere close to who I was in my twenties in Boston, thinking I had it all figured out, that I knew which precipice my life would overlook and jump from. I have no idea where it will point its finger next, if I’ll decide on postdoctoral work, or take a job overseas, or perhaps even remain in my home town until my days blur into one and my kids have grown and left. I do know that I’ll be taking swings until my days fade black, and that hangovers are proof I fought the darkness with both anger and repose, and that regret won’t hold when looking back on all my years.
Josh Michael is a writer and educator living in Billings, MT. He teaches writing courses at Montana State University-Billings, and he works for a non-profit teaching poetry in local grade schools.
Josh urges you to learn more about Arts Without Boundaries, a non-profit that encourages students to engage in music, art, and writing at the grade school level. Please visit artswithoutboundaries.wildapricot.org.