Memoir

You Never Thought You’d Be Alone This Far Down the Line

The temperature outside hovers around 100 degrees, and the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling (GLOW) are overacting on my TV screen. It is July 21, 2018, or it is July 21, 1988. Those two dates are separated by 30 years and 2,700 miles, but on both it’s hot and ladies in neon leotards are wrasslin’. I can’t cop to being much of a wrestling fan, but the GLOW of three decades ago was a fascinating train wreck, and the GLOW of today is a brilliant comedy-drama about said fascinating train wreck. It’s about other things, too.

I was 21 years old and living in Savannah, Georgia 30 years ago. My bedroom’s bay window overlooked Forsyth Park, so pretty during the day, so dangerous at night. Hardwood floors and thirteen foot ceilings with creaking fans that churned the thick air, all for $385 per month. That was a fortune after our previous apartment, a Victorian attic that only cost $250.

“Us” was my girlfriend and me. We were two years into this thing–two years of trying to learn how to be grown-ups and overcome the damage of our respective childhoods. We didn’t know that’s what we were doing, though. We just knew that we were fighting or crying or laughing or dreaming or making love or fighting some more.

We fought so much that I can’t even remember what this particular fight was about. All I remember is her storming out of the apartment with the high ceilings and the big bay window, her tiny feet Godzilla stomping down the stairs, every echoing footstep a punctuation mark meant either to end or extend our argument. I wasn’t falling for it. If she wanted to storm out, let her storm out. I wasn’t going to play the heel to her face, the wrasslin’ terms for bad guys and good guys.

Who knows how much time passed, probably seconds but it felt like minutes. Maybe I loved her, or maybe my fear of being abandoned was the biggest monkey on my back. My father left once when I was a kid, stayed gone for a year. After he came back, my mother was known to run to the car when they fought. She’d sit behind the wheel, hands shaking and eyes wild, engine idling. I don’t remember her ever driving away, but each time the scene repeated I was certain that this would be my last image of my mother.

I caught up with my girlfriend in the middle of Forsyth Park and tried to smooth over whatever caused the argument. Her hands shook and her eyes were wild. I can still hear her voice: “I don’t care what you do, but I’m moving to Los Angeles,” she said, and she walked away, the face defeating the heel with a full body slam. It was a “Road Not Taken” moment filtered through a Faulknerian lens of white trash satire, a pair of southern kids facing two paths diverging in a verdant park. I took the one most traveled by, and that made all the difference: I chose to follow the girl.

Everything that’s happened to me over the last 30 years has as its point of origin my decision that afternoon in Forsyth Park. I quit art school in order to save money for Los Angeles. I quit my job managing a record store, too. There was more money to be made waiting tables for the tourists who crowded Savannah’s squares than there was selling Eagles records. That fall we headed west, no more to our names than the cash in our pockets and whatever fit into the trunk of her car.

How different might my life have been if I stayed in Savannah and finished art school? I wouldn’t have spent time in the film industry, though I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. I probably wouldn’t have gone back to school to study writing, but maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, either.

Would my kids exist? Would I have wasted so many years working soulless jobs just to support both them and me? Would I have ended up 2,700 miles away regardless of what road I took? Would I have come to grips with my childhood fear of abandonment sooner if I’d just faced up to it that afternoon?

This is where my mind went in 2018 while I binge watched Netflix’s GLOW, a television series that superficially is about the awful show that blared from my Forsyth Park apartment in 1988, but at a deeper level is about those snap decisions that alter the trajectories of our lives. No matter what choice we make, the consequences will be a blend of both good and bad. A lot of that has to do with how we’re wired as people, too. “That accident changed my life for the worse” says one person while another says, “Thank God for that accident, else I never would’ve sobered up.” I fear I’m a “for the worse” kind of guy.

I don’t regret the consequences of that snap decision in Forsyth Park, though I regret all of the time I’ve wasted since that day–time pissed away on things other than art, love, and sanity. At least I didn’t waste it watching wrestling, though, so I guess I’ve got that going for me.

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  1. Time pissed away. Been there, done that. Actually, still doing that. But we all do. So don’t feel too bad. I’ll bet even Einstein and Picasso felt they did, and regretted taking one road instead of another. And relationship-wise here I is, still single and never married. I actually thought that might change back in ’93 or so with a certain girl, but that went south in ’94 after the “let’s move in together” period. I’ve never been one to go out looking for women. If it happened, it happened. And most of the time it didn’t. Actually I’ve never been the initiator. It was after late ’94 that I decided that I was never going to bend over backwards again. After a couple of relationships that just didn’t click, I realized, now older, that I may be too set in my ways to even bend as much as I should. But I know that’s okay. I’ve known for a very long time, even during my childhood, that I would be okay alone.

    Some people are total opposites. I knew a young girl who got married early, but eventually got divorced. She went almost immediately into another relationship. She told me, “I just can’t stand to be alone. I just can’t.” That’s something I can’t understand, but she’s still married and has two sons. And I’m fine being single with my menagerie of cats. Is there someone out there for me? Probably. But the thing is, and I guess always has been, is that I won’t settle. Some people, the older they get, tend to get worried about dying alone and then settle for a relationship they might later wish had never happened. I’ll die alone with my cats by my side before letting that thought be my last. Some people have asked me if I ever get sad or lonely not having been married, and having children. My honest answer is “Sure”. Hell, I could be a granddad by now. I am alone, but am I lonely? No. There’s a very big difference.

    Now regarding taking one road over another, there are probably lots of little ones here and there that may have made a small difference. But there are two big ones in my life, so far. The first was way back in late 1982. I had taken the firefighter exam. Out of 60 applicants I came in at #6. Even had an interview with the Fire Chief himself, and he explained that they hired as positions became available. Fast forward to September 1983. Still no word from the Fire Chief, and my girlfriend and I had split. My best friend told me he was moving to Savannah to go to art college. That sounded good to me, so we got all of the student loan stuff done, got an apartment with a six month lease in my name, utilities, etc. Classes started and two weeks later I got a job at a local music store. Everything was great. Everything was new. I was on my own for the first time, and in a different town. I had been in Savannah about a month, and then one night my mom called. The Fire Chief had called and said I had a job if I wanted it. My mom explained to him that I had moved, but he said the job was still available. I thought about it. A firefighter. Good pay. Good benefits. Flexible schedule. The apartment lease. The student loans. Everything I’d spent. The new job. Yep, I thought about it and then said “No, thanks.” I often think how completely different my life would be had I said “Yes”. I’d be retired by now with benefits, I’ve thought. But I could have also been killed in a fire a month after starting. I’ll never know.

    The second was in 1989, and I had recently moved back to my hometown. A certain friend I had met at art college had moved out to Los Angeles, so I went for a visit. He still had to work, so I had a lot of time to myself. Hollywood and Sunset Blvds. The Chinese Theater. The Hollywood sign. Hell, I even went to Universal Studios north of Hollywood for a day and then walked back along the busy highway and through random neighborhoods, something I probably shouldn’t have done. But our time together was well spent going out to Venice Beach, Griffith Park and various eateries. It was like another world, another world with seemingly endless opportunities. Later, after I returned home, my friend and I talked and then it was decided that I could stay with him and his girlfriend for a few months while I looked around for a job and my own place. I began to save every dime, and by early 1990 had saved over $3,000. For whatever reason, I decided maybe a thousand more would be enough to make the move. I could save that in about a month or two tops. I had already told my parents of my plans. Mom was not thrilled at all, but she understood my love for and interest in movies and also music, and LA was the place one had to be to get into that business.

    It’s funny how one little thing can change everything. Sort of like that butterfly flapping its wings in the wind thing. I met a girl. Long story short, she’s the one I mentioned earlier in the first paragraph. After four and a half years there was no more relationship, and the $3,000+ had long gone. So I never did move out to Hollywood. Sinatra once sang “That’s life.” And it is. Will I ever get to make my Oscar acceptance speech? I very highly doubt it. Can you imagine what it would be like moving across the country with six cats?

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