In my last post, I wrote about the need for more authenticity in our social media, and how I found myself face-to-face with this question as I experienced depression, multiple relationships fall apart and now my mother and aunt getting into a bad car accident. This resulted in me having to move back to my hometown in Painesville, Ohio temporarily. I’ve associated the area with my painful adolescence… even blamed it. This turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to me at this time.
For most of us, posting content that shows us at our “less than best” isn’t an easy thing, but it makes us relatable. And those that don’t find it relatable will simply stop viewing it. Being authentic is more important than ever in today’s cynical (fake news anyone?) world. I’ll embark on the following with this quote that I heard recently, but don’t remember from whom:
Prior to my thirties, I cared greatly about what others thought of me.
In my forties, I stopped caring about what others thought of me.
In my fifties, I realized that others really aren’t thinking of me.
Healing Part 1: Stand By Me
Prior to my later teens, I had a childhood rich in experiences that I’ve always felt warranted a lawsuit for plagiarism from Rob Reiner’s movie, “Stand By Me”. No kidding. Right down to the characters and settings.
We lived on a street that dead ended into railroad tracks that were a path to endless adventures. I had two neighbor friends, Tony and Steve, that joined me on these adventures through The Gulley, The Sand Pit, The Bridge, Green Valley and The Gravel Pit. There were always abandoned trains, houses and warehouses that needed explored (broken into).
That was the naive era – before we started driving – When I’d realize that we lived in the middle of nowhere and how insignificant my life was here compared to the whole world out there.
It would take me a lot of years to acknowledge that these were some of the most amazing years of my life.
I decided to reach out to my childhood friends, Tony and Steve — the other two “Stand By Me” characters.
Tony, I hadn’t seen in 10 years. I last saw him at my brother’s wedding. I called him once since, about 6 years ago to see if he and Steve wanted to get together and hike the old trails, but he thought I was crazy… like people over 40 can’t possibly physically do that. And he told me about Steve’s condition.
Steve, I hadn’t seen in 25 years. The last time I spoke to him, he was damning the Summer of Sun because we hadn’t received enough rain (he was a custodian at the local school, not a farmer). He was so negative that I just turned my back on him. It turns out that a few years later he’d suffer a back injury that would require two surgeries over the years that left him mostly bed ridden for a long time.
Nonetheless, I called them again to see if they wanted to relive a day exploring our stomping grounds along the railroad tracks of our neighborhood. To my surprise they readily agreed and the next morning we embarked on a hike through all of our “Stand By Me” trails along the tracks, woods and nearby river.
The environment changed so much that I couldn’t have told you where I was from one moment to the next, but, Steve, formally the wimpy “Stand By Me” kid, is now a very svelte scout that Tony and I struggled to keep up with. Apparently he’s found strenuous walking to strengthen his back and aid his healing.
What also wasn’t the same was the dynamic between the three of us. No longer the judgmental assholes that we once were – trying to find ways to put the others down in an effort of posturing, we were now three men of different backgrounds and outcomes that (finally) seemed very comfortable with just being who we were. For the first time, we weren’t looking to find a kink in the other’s armor. We just wanted to enjoy the day.
None more than me. It was a gorgeous, hot summer day that felt just like our childhood adventures. I hadn’t experienced that brightness in a long time. The brightness of my computer screen seemed so incredibly dulled by this. It was Day One of some serious healing.
We relived countless stories of “trouble” that we’d get into. Back then, we’d often leave in the morning and come home at night, living on a can of soup or hot dogs that we’d pack and the fruit we’d find on trees and bushes along our journeys. We laughed about how “being bad” back then meant smoking a cigarette or joint. In both our neighborhoods today, it means violent crime and heroin addiction. Somehow, 40 years of guilt seemed to just fall off my shoulders.
Healing Part 2: The Mardi Gras
After tending to family matters for a couple days, I took to my bicycle, where I’m most happy. I had a whole beautiful Sunday to myself to do with as I pleased. I headed out with no destination in mind.
I rode through downtown Painesville. It was moving to see the small shops that were still there and efforts of a few new ventures. But, there was also a lot of empty buildings and lack of life that I’m used to in the Heights. So I headed to Fairport Harbor – the small town along the lake that, amazingly to me, could never pull itself out of below average status.
I made it there by about noon. I rode through its version of “downtown”, and although much smaller than Painesville’s, it was almost bustling with activity. I headed up to the Lighthouse to check out the beach.
That’s when I happened upon their annual Mardi Gra.
Totally forgot about it. But, the mini circus busts into town every year over the Fourth of July weekend and culminates in the area’s best fireworks display on its last night. They were all set up, but not yet opened. I got to ride my bike through the festival before the crowds made it impossible. It flooded me with memories.
It didn’t change a bit. This tiny beachside town has always shared the dichotomy of the Seinfeld episode with Jerry’s girlfriend who’d look beautiful in bright light, and ugly in the shadows.
The old French Fries and Italian Sausage stands, carni-games and carni-rides lined the beach. In one instance, it can look like a quaint scene from a movie along the boardwalk of Jersey Shore. From another, it looks like a bottom of the barrel outfit of nomadic criminals setting up in another small midwestern town to prey upon the not-quite-innocent.
Tony, Steve and I fit right into that scene as teens – a special event where you could slip between bright, colored lights at night, or hide in the shadows of the beach, where I got arrested for smoking pot at 15 years old. Having my parents pick me up at the police station that night was a serious low light of my teen years.
In the distance, I could see the Coast Guard Station. I have semi-fond memories of cleaning out the boat house with a fire hose via court order (maybe from the Mardi Gras incident, or maybe when I stole my parent’s a car and wrecked it… one of those times. I polished fire trucks too – not as fun).
I then rode my bike over to the nearby lake side Sunset Bar and Grill. Still a gorgeous afternoon, I sat at the outdoor bar and had a couple Lite drafts while I listened to classic rock over the speakers. I’m not kidding – while listening to Bob Seger’s Night Moves, I noticed a woman across the bar about my age that I recognized from Facebook. About 35 years prior, we had a frolic with in my neighbor’s yard following a neighborhood party. She didn’t seem to recognize me. I’m glad, as I just cherished tucking this memory in my back pocket where it belonged.
From there, I rode my bike past my now deceased grandparent’s tiny house in Painesville Township Park – a small village along Lake Erie where many poor families from West Virginia migrated to in order to secure steady work at the nearby (disgusting) chemical plants. I hadn’t seen the house in at least 20 years and it looks exactly the same, except for the young family outside working in the lawn.
I then rode through the Park itself. It’s a very old, but well maintained chain of baseball fields. It was bustling with vibrant young and happy families playing and watching baseball games. It seemed so much more upscale than what I remembered. But, what I was really looking for was the Community Center where my parents met.
It’s still there. Completely refurbished in every stretch of the word. Giant air conditioning units declared a new day and age, but, it still triggered the memory… the story described many times over the years by my mother. A Friday night when her friends went to the popular dance night there:
“This young, handsome guy leaning against the pinball machine doing his best James Dean impersonation…”
Yep, that’d be my future father. I’d like to say that I was conceived shortly thereafter, But I have an older brother that would probably take offense to that. I’d also like to say that that was the beginning of a beautiful love story. We had a ton of terrific family memories, but, there was also lot of anxiety in the family – as there was in everyone’s family that I grew up around.
But, today, all I remembered were the good times. And there were plenty of them that I’d mostly forgotten. Shame on me to discredit my good fortune of knowing so many good people and having such a rich (in experience) childhood. Most everyone I’ve met in my adult life doesn’t have the repertoire of experiences that I had growing up.
I did a lot more riding and relived more memories from there. But, this is what left the most impact on me.
I spent my entire life trying to distance myself from my home town. I chose to blame it for my life time battle with anxiety. It’s true that it originated there, but that doesn’t mean that it was the cause. And staying in that frame of mind is a victim mentality.
Healing Part 3: Breakfast with Ghandi
The brightest part of my last years in Painesville was working out at the local YMCA every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning with my dear friend, Tony Evangelista, the town’s favorite veterinarian. He must be the most trusted and loved man in town.
In those years, I was about 19-24 years old and he’s about 14 years older. I’ve always known him as the peaceful, happily married man with gentle, sage words of wisdom. My mentor.
He’s retired now, but true to form, still works out at the Y on the same schedule all these years later. He snuck me into the Y yesterday and we worked out and talked like old times. We talked about my relationship struggles and laughed off current events like it was 25 years ago.
This morning, we had breakfast. I told Tony that my ex texted me and wants to talk. He really wants to see me in a relationship as I get older and he’s met her and likes her very much.
After explaining the difficulties in my relationship… in typical Tony (Ghandi) fashion, he says, “Just explain your feelings without getting emotional. I know that’s hard. But, you need to do exactly that. Keep your emotions in check and just say what you really feel, and let the chips fall where may.”
So that’s what I’ll do. Meeting up with my dear friend makes my head clearer and heart fuller. I don’t know what the future will hold as far as this relationship goes, but I feel a lot better about letting it unfold naturally.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What does sharing my personal struggles have to do with my brand?
Authenticity. It’s a word I haven’t been able to escape for months now. I started Over 50 Starting Over as a way to connect with my peers with the intent to help them find and start careers that make them happier and more fulfilled.
If I’m going to succeed at that, I have to be authentic. I have to be able to really show why I created a logo for Over 50 Starting Over that has wheels churning forward. If we’re going to move forward working towards a happier life and career, we have to come clean with ourselves and those around us in order to get clear and find what really makes us happy. And what makes us unhappy.
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