A Six-Minute Story
Hello there. My name is Andrew Smart, but it figures, doesn’t it? I’m not known for always doing a lot of smart things. For example, it was March 6, exactly 37 years ago today. I was 26 years old at the time. I memorized this date because in the back of my alcohol sated mind I knew the date would someday be significant to me, more important than my birthday, more noteworthy than the night I first kissed a girl, more meaningful than the afternoon my wife and I took our wedding vows. It was the anniversary. It was the anniversary of anniversaries, it being the first day of the rest of my life. There were tears that night, and a lot of blood. Lots and lots of blood. My memory of that night is not sharp, but I do remember the gore, bright red and sticky, soaked into the belly of my shirt and down my pantlegs, dripping down on the tops of my shoes. It was puddling on the kitchen floor. Jeez, what a mess.
Today, to look at me you’d never guess. Right now, I am sitting in the backyard of my house, playing fetch with our German Shepherd, throwing the same toy over and over. Our dog’s name is Cindy, and she loves playing this game. I throw her toy as far as I can, and she runs to get it. She proudly brings it back and drops it on my lap, panting and nosing the toy. I’m sure she could play this game twenty-four hours a day for the rest of her life and never get bored. Yes, there’s a clear Zen component to this dog-sport. She is in the moment, at one with herself and her universe. If it’s possible for a dog to be happy, Cindy is happy. She is totally content. She is pain free. While she is busy playing fetch, nothing from her past causes her distress, and nothing foreseen in her future makes her worry.
I am not a dog. Nothing like one. There was my childhood, of course. Then there were four tortuous years of high school, followed by four years of nose-to-the-grindstone college. I learned a lot, but in a way, I learned nothing at all. When I was in my early twenties, I stepped out into the real world as clueless as a soldier on his first day. Oh, I had dreams. And I had a vision for my future. I was kind of a know-it-all who, in fact, knew very little. But despite my general state of ignorance, I did have a knack for making others believe in me. I had lots of self-confidence, and I exuded an air of trustworthiness. I was smart as a whip, and I knew what to say, and when to say it. Never mind precisely what I was doing for a living those years. Just know that I quickly got a lot of people to endow me with their money. They wrote me big checks with lots of zeros. They told all their friends about me.
I think it was the alcohol that finally did me in. I think without its dark and twisted influence, I could’ve weathered the storm. And without all the drinking, I don’t think I would’ve dug myself into such a deep hole. But, Christ, what a hole I dug! Down deep into the cold earth, and then deeper. The sides were steep and loose. and there was no way out. And to make things worse, no one nearby felt sorry for me. In fact, it was just the opposite. They were angry as hell. I mean, seriously, it was like someone had whacked a bee hive with a baseball bat. They were flying about furiously. There was no mercy. Their eyes were burning red, and steam was shooting out from their ears. One of my best and friendliest clients called me a “piece of shit.” No one had ever called me this. Not ever. Was that what I was? A piece of shit?” This same client filed a law suit against me, and for the first time in my life I had to hire an attorney.
These days, I don’t talk to attorneys. I haven’t had to hire an attorney for years. I behave myself, and I cut people slack. I’ve stopped making a big deal out of everything, and life is good. And I say the less time I have to spend talking to attorneys, the better off I am. Speaking of attorneys, have you heard the one about the attorney who died? A man calls his law firm and asks to speak to the attorney. The receptionist tells the man that, unfortunately, his attorney died the previous week. The next day, the man calls the office again, and again he asks to speak to his attorney. The receptionist tells him that his attorney died. Well, the next day the man calls for a third time, and he asks for his attorney. Now the receptionist is getting annoyed. This time she says him, “You keep asking for your attorney, and I keep telling you that he died last week. Why do you keep calling?” The man laughs and says, “Because I just love hearing you say that.”
Do you want to know what I like about my life now? It’s so simple. It isn’t that I don’t have my fair share of problems. There will always be problems. Sometimes there will be solutions to these problems, and sometimes the problems will just be problems. As I play fetch with my dog, Cindy, I hope she lives a full life. Our previous dog died before her time from cancer, and it broke our hearts. But you know what? There was nothing we could do about it. Cancer comes out of the blue, as if from nowhere. If you’re smart, you learn to accept life on life’s terms, and you count your blessings. You learn a lot of things, the sort of things they don’t teach in schools. You learn that it’s important to always do your best, but that it isn’t important to be the best. You learn not to take the whole apple pie for yourself, and you leave plenty for the others. You learn that what goes around does come around, and you learn that being kind and helpful to another person reaps far greater rewards than any lucrative business deal or other silly feather you happen to poke in your hat. And you learn that the song was wrong, that all you need isn’t just love, but also that love is usually much more important than you ever realized.
I’m just scratching the surface, here. That’s all I’m doing. When I was a young man in my twenties, I was a foolish young man. I didn’t even know there was a surface to scratch. And, oddly enough, I thought I knew it all. To my way of thinking on that fateful night, the world was ugly, unforgiving, and stingy. I had way too much to drink. I know now that my boozing was much to blame when I opened the drawer in our kitchen and removed that steak knife. It only took a few drunken slashes to open up my wrists. God, blood spurted like I’d struck oil. I remember feeling light headed, and I was wondering, “What the hell have you done?” Then I went into a blackout. They told me later that I had called 911, but I don’t remember making the call. What I do remember is that our apartment was suddenly filled with first responders doing their jobs and chatting about this and that. Are you curious to know where my wife was? She was out of town that night, setting up a booth for her employer at a trade show in New Orleans. After the medics wrapped up my wrists good and tight to lessen the bleeding. Then they led me to their ambulance and took me to the emergency room. At the hospital, I was sewn up, re-wrapped, and then moved to a mental hospital for “observation.” It still makes me laugh. I just sat there on a couch for hours, watching the doctors and lunatics come and go. No one in the entire place was “observing” me doing anything at all. I was no one of importance to them. I wasn’t the topic of any of their conversations. The nurses were talking about a Van Halen concert the night before, and the doctors were talking about the Lakers. I was just another sad soul with several feet of white gauze wrapped around his tender wrists.
But like I said earlier, life is now good. My youth has come and gone. And honestly, I wouldn’t trade the life I have today for all the cash in a busy Las Vegas casino. I’m not one to revel in my failures, but I’m glad I failed at my steak knife suicide attempt. Jeez, just think of everything I would’ve missed out on. The kids, the jobs, the houses, the vacations, and now our recent move from California to South Carolina. It was one of the best decisions we ever made. I like living here in the south. I like being called honey and sweetie and darling by women I don’t know from Adam. The south is hilarious. It took us over a year to sell our house in California, but we finally closed escrow and got close to what we were asking. We went out to dinner last week to celebrate the sale. My wife asked me where I thought we should go, and I named several restaurants that I liked. “No, no,” she said. “We should go to the Chesterfield.” The Chesterfield is a hotel downtown with a fancy restaurant and live jazz music in the adjacent lounge, and it was one of the first places we visited when we moved out here. But it’s funny. I mean it’s really funny. Every time we go to this restaurant, my wife complains about the food and service ad nauseum. And when we went there to celebrate the sale of our house, my wife complained about the food and service the entire time we were there. Okay, maybe not the entire time, but it seemed that way. When I wasn’t listening to her complain, we talked about our son and daughter.
Our twenty-eight-year-old son lives in New York, and he is trying to make his mark on the world as a great artist. He’s a good kid, but I wish he had gone to college. He has no tattoos, so I guess that’s good. Unlike our son, our daughter is in college at age 36. She lives in San Diego with her boyfriend, the tattooed man. She spent eighteen years working in a drug store, and she finally decided that she needed a diploma and education so that she can do something other than operate a cash register and look out for shoplifters. More power to her, right? But I wish she would call me just to talk now and then. Oh, she does call me. In fact, both kids call me. But I’ve come to realize that they call me only when they need more money. Maybe that’s not exactly fair, but that’s the way it sometimes seems. I also have a cousin who is a couple years older than me, and she calls every now and again. We used to be very close. She likes to talk, but I think she calls me when she’s drinking, because she’s very hard to talk to. She says things like, “Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes. I know you.” Then ten minutes later, she be on the verge of tears, telling me, “I don’t know you at all.” But I’m digressing. The point is that my life now is awesome.
Here’s what I’ve learned about life. You’ve got to learn to give yourself a break. You’ve got to give others a break. If you don’t take it seriously, it will roll all over you, and if you take it too seriously, you will be seriously disappointed. If you laugh too much, you’ll come across to others as an idiot, but if you don’t learn to laugh, you’re doomed. And if you ever just give up and try to end your life, you are the worst kind of fool. How does that saying go? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth? In my opinion, that says it all. This is what’s been going through my mind today, on this anniversary. I force myself to remember this date every year. The first day of the rest of my marvelous life.