As of this very minute, I am 40 years old. Barring any unforeseen disease or accident, my life is essentially half over.
So, how’s my driving?
Directly after graduating high school, my senior class went to a party thrown by the school in a rented skating rink masquerading as a giant dance hall. Despite being less than 5 miles away from the graduation ceremony, some teens were showing up drunk, something I hadn’t ever seen before. Some arrived with JBF hair, something else I hadn’t seen before. And when the party was over at 2am, everybody went to a Lake Michigan beach about 2 miles away where the party continued (under the watchful eye of police who had been given “incentive” by wealthy township parents to watch over the party without arresting anyone) with much alcohol and the occasional disappear into the bushes. I imbibed of neither, being a completely sheltered and, at that moment, shocked virgin. Midway through the second party, I asked a similarly-sheltered friend, “I thought only 10% of our class had sex and did drugs; what the hell is going on?” “Where have YOU been?” he replied. “Your percentages are inverted.”
I vowed a few things that morning:
- I would stop contemplating suicide
- If I was still a virgin by New Year’s Eve 1999, I would commit suicide
- I would give alcohol a chance
I’m happy to report that I was no longer a virgin less than a year later, having met my soulmate in college. 21 years, 16 marriage anniversaries, and two children later, things simply couldn’t be better. For anyone who thinks that there is nobody out there for them, I say this: Get out more. Someone, somewhere, really wants to meet you, and you really want to meet them.
What about that alcohol vow? I’ve had so few drinks in my life that I can remember every single one of them, and to prove it, here goes: A Miller Light at a party when I was 16, a small glass of everclear punch at a frat party when I was 19, rum and coke at my bachelor party, Malibu rum and coke at a company party, a Corona at a company outing, a Bud Light after a successful day of running the MobyGames booth at Classic Gaming Expo 2004, a glass of salmiakki at Pilgrimage 2004, another one at Block Party 2009, three different types of spirits at Whiskeyfest Chicago 2010, about 10 beers over an 18 month period at a recent company, two “rum barrels” at same said company’s outing, two shots of something unidentifiable yet quite strong while leaving said company, and a Malibu rum and coke at a recent wedding. That’s everything. I think that’s enough to say I’ve given alcohol a chance, and I still really fucking hate it. Every one of them has burned on the way down. Every single one. I don’t understand the appeal of a substance that directly attacks you as you imbibe. “Well, you didn’t drink enough!” I hear someone shout in the back of the room. Maybe not, but if I wanted to get relaxed and/or euphoric, I would rather just go to a demoparty or get sleep-deprived (or, as is usual for demoparties, both simultaneously). You know what really lifts me? Watching something so goddamn funny that tears stream down my face from all the laughing. I can’t believe being drunk is better than that.
As a physical specimen, I could have gone better. I was born with one foot turned 80 degrees towards the other. I inherited terrible eyes from both my parents; one was cross-eyed with astigmatism, and the other quite nearsighted, so naturally I got all three of those and am legally blind without my glasses. My eyes are so bad, in fact, that I don’t qualify for LASIK (the best it could do for me is reduce my prescription, two eye doctors have told me; no point in doing it if I still have to wear glasses!). I’ve never had any natural athletic ability. Every September is hell thanks to hayfever allergies. But it’s not all bad; innovative eye training at a young age almost completely cured my crossed eyes without surgery (and earned me a Speak’n’Spell as a reward), and a leg brace worn until I was three corrected the foot. I shot up to 6 feet 2 inches by age 16, where I remain. My weight is a problem, but I’ve started running again and it’s something I have control over and hope to be in good shape in four months. Heck, I still have all my hair. I could have turned out a lot worse.
I’ve experienced a lot of heartache my first 40 years. I’ve been beaten up on a regular basis, nearly got kicked out of high school for ditching class, was kicked out of college for the same thing, washed out of a physical labor job after only two days, and blew a shot at a potentially high-earning new career by screwing up a managerial position. I’ve also CAUSED a lot of heartache, by being pretentious and rude to people who didn’t deserve it, treating every member of my immediate family badly or disrespectfully at least once, dumping my first girlfriend in a truly horrific way, acting unprofessionally in front of customers, and even stealing (in both the plagiarism and retail sense). I’ve nearly doubled my high-school graduation weight. Early in my career, I was known (and treated) as “the smartest kid in the room”, something I’ve lost due to age and time and has resulted in some depression. I’ve even lost a few friendships along the way. Deservedly, I am cursed with extremely detailed memories of every single one of these events.
Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me as well, some by chance, and others by my own doing. I met my wonderful wife, who I somehow convinced to put up with me and gave me two wonderful children. I made some considered and crafty career choices that kept me fulfilled with how I earn a living, something I’m especially proud of given that I never completed college. I’ve personally witnessed the birth (and death, in some cases) of home computers, music videos, the space shuttle, digital media, the internet, the web, the fall of the Berlin wall, cell phones, the bicentennial, and of course video games. The day I was born, astronauts from Apollo 15 first took the lunar rover out for a spin. I’ve started a few projects that I am well-known for in certain small circles, including one that wildly outgrew what I could give it and continues to survive without me. I even gained approval and acceptance from a small group of underground creative hackers, which tickles me.
If I had to go back and live my life again, I’d do it all exactly the same. Cliché or not, I really would, since deviating from the course would put me somewhere else entirely today, and I’m not sure I want that. If I hadn’t gotten picked on and beat up so much as a youth, I probably wouldn’t have turned to computers and music for solace and comfort. (And believe me, computers pretty much saved my life.) If I hadn’t done so poorly in high school, I wouldn’t have picked Monmouth College to attend (the only nice college that would take me based on my ACT scores and not my GPA) and I wouldn’t have met my wife, and consequently had our children. If I hadn’t flunked out of college, I wouldn’t have had the career path that led to where I am today; I probably would have graduated with a liberal arts degree with a specialization in computer science, and gotten work in a local rural town doing mediocre application programming. And so on.
No, really – I really would do it all over again. Want one last example? High school. Most people never want to revisit high school. Me, I wish I could do some of this stuff ten times over:
Today on the train ride into work, I sat across the aisle from a large mid-40’s guy with unkempt shaggy balding hair 2 inches too long, black sneakers worn with blue jeans, an 80’s hair-metal black t-shirt one size too small, and a dirty no-name mp3 player that he was using to listen to uncomfortably loud metal on his cheap earbuds. Think Brian Posehn but without the personality and success. His music was so loud that I could make out the lyrics, and my initial impulse was to ask him to turn it down. But as I kept glancing over, I saw he was really rocking out to what he was listening to, in his confined sitting-in-a-train-seat way. This loser had nothing but his cheap metal, which was enough. I opted not to bother him; let him have his moment, something nice to sustain him for the rest of his inevitably crappy day at a crappy job. I mention this to illustrate two things: The first is this attitude I have, something I’ve gained with age and did not have 20 years ago — patience, forgiveness, empathy, consideration. The second is how tiny changes early in life could have turned me into this guy. It’s in these moments that I’m actually glad I’m older.
Every six months, one aspect of your life gets much easier, while something else gets much, much harder. I can live with those odds for the second half.