February 07, 2009

Once Upon a Life

Once upon a life I was a twenty-year-old college student trying on the verge of giving up dreams of law school to return to my earlier passion of trying to become a sports writer. If I can borrow from Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Physically I was the best shape of my life. I worked out like a fiend. Every day I devoted a chunk of time to working out and my body reflected it. I have always been gifted with natural physical strength and the weights just enhanced it. I remember showing off by curling 150 pounds over and over. I wasn't a slouch at the bench press either, I maxed out at 330 pounds.

Mentally I wasn't in the same sort of shape. My girlfriend dumped me, a friend committed suicide and the mother of a dear friend died suddenly. I looked at the world and tried to make sense of it and found it to be pretty challenging.

And now you know part of why I spent so much time in the gym. It was easy inside the weight room. It was one of the few areas of my life that I had control over. It was a sanctuary, a refuge that I could hide in. And I did hide there.

As I sit here and remember what it was like I can't say that I remember everything. For example I am trying to remember what made me decide that I didn't want to be an attorney. I was very interested in constitutional law and for a while that was where my focus was. I can remember spending time trying to decide if that was the best path to follow or if something else made more sense. But for the life of me I can't remember why I decided against law school.

Twenty years later I can't say that I have any particular regrets about that either. Most of my friends who became lawyers have stopped practicing and are working in other fields. I don't do things just because others do, but I think that it is fair to say that if they all dropped I might have too. But who knows.

Sometimes I miss my Camaro. I was the second owner. It went from ferrying around nursery school children to yours truly and those who accompanied me. Powder blue and beautiful it came off the assembly line in 1977, last year of the steel bumper.

I never did give it a name, thought it probably deserved one. Together we drove up and down the coast and all over the City of Angels. Sometimes I think that it really did have a life of its own, because it saved me from my own stupidity. There are a lot of stories that it could tell, some that no one has ever heard and probably no one ever will.

It was my second home and I loved it. Two car stereos were stolen from it. Someone once tried to grab a third, but I caught him. Or should I say that he was caught between the car and I. Not a good place to be, especially if you weren't expecting company.

There were a lot of hours spent in the car just driving around. Gas cost less than a buck so a poor college student didn't have to worry about going bankrupt trying to keep the tank full. Some nights I would put Scherazade in the tape player and pretend that I was setting sail for parts unknown.

Other times it would be a Van Halen song like Eruption, Panama or Running With the Devil.

It took a bit of time, but after a while the solitude grew on me. I appreciated the time alone and learned how to use it to take a harder look at myself. It gave me a chance to really start learning more about who I was and what I wanted/needed in life.

I won't rewrite history and say that there weren't some hard moments there because there were, but there were some really good ones too.

Now twenty years later I look back and see how some of those experiences helped to shape me. I can see how I responded to some things and cringe. My grandfather always said that "you can't screw an old head on young shoulders" and he was right. At times I was an idiot, but I made some very good decisions too.

From time to time the science fiction fan in me has thought about what would happen if the 20 year old Jack had to fight the current Jack, in this case almost 40 year-old Jack. I am not exaggerating when I say that kid was a beast. Physically he outclassed me.

But that guy would have looked at the old, weathered guy in front of him and laughed. He would have assumed that the old man just didn't have enough in the tank to deal with the beating that he would give him.

But I am here to tell you that he would have been wrong. Because I have the advantage of life experience and wisdom. I have seen a lot, enough to know that sometimes things can happen. I know that the underdog can and often wins. I am a crafty vet of more than a few wars and frankly I am meaner and harder than that 20 year-old kid.

As long as I didn't let my ego get the best of me I would take that kid and humble him. But enough of this nonsense.

If you ask me whether I'd switch places with him I'd say no, not unless I could take the wisdom and life experience with me. The only thing that I really want is that body and the metabolism that went with it. And if not that, the freedom and dedication to working out that I once had. That would be nice.

But what really makes me happiest is to know that I am not looking back thinking that the best part of my life is over because that really would be tragic.


shavuatov said...

Yet more thinking out loud, Jack. And you write so well. I've recently been doing such things, as you know. A new friend has come into my life who's going through some tough stuff that I have found I can help with - because of my life experience (he's younger than me). We both benefit - he gets some help, and I walked away from the most recent conversation we had realising that the tough times I've been through have been worth it on yet another level - because it's enabled me to help someone else.

So I wouldn't go back either.


V-Grrrl said...

What would I want from my 20 year old self?

Her physical strength and stamina

Her belief in happily ever after

The decisions I made? Good ones I think, even though I question them too.

Jack said...

Hi Rachel,

It is always nice to know that our experience is useful for something or other.


Good comments. It is important to be able to look back and not second guess ourselves.