- 2011 -
I told my wife once that I wasn’t sure I really ever loved her. She left me two weeks later.
She told me to stay away from our house for half of the last week, and when I came back, most of the furniture was gone. Somehow I’d found myself standing there on bare floors, gazing through the dim light at my remaining possessions: a set of bunk beds, a couch, a stack of books, and some unpaid electric bills sitting on our kitchen table, the legs of which had been severely gnawed by my favorite dog. She took him as well.
But I don’t blame her. I can’t. There were other reasons she left, of course — I have a hard time believing there can only be one reason why we ever do anything, though I guess I’m not sure.
I guess I’m not sure about a lot of things.
If you wanted to take me to a restaurant for instance — say, for my birthday or Cinco De Mayo or something, it’s likely you’d get pretty frustrated with me before we even left the house. I would probably grow quieter, maybe become mute altogether. Even if you asked me in your most straightforward voice to make a decision, chances are, I’d still refuse.
“No, you choose,” I’d reply, and that’s when you might dissolve into screaming, and living room furniture would get thrown around and everything would just end up a big mess.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a huge problem making decisions on my own. I am fairly accomplished at knowing what I want. But I would probably freeze up if you asked me where to eat or what to do, because I’m usually much too busy trying to figure out where you’d like to eat or what you want to do. In other words, I’m hoping you make the decision, not because I can’t, but because I’d just rather go where you want to go.
And all this probably looks really nice at first glance, but it’s not. It might look like I’m being selfless, like I’m trying to put someone else’s desires before my own, but really it’s about something completely different: an exaggerated desire to avoid conflict, a desperate longing for approval, an ache to earn the love of another. What’s really behind my desire to have what you want and nothing else? I’m scared to death that if I tell you what I really desire, you might reject it, and by doing so, reject me.
My wife and I were both that way, about much more than just choosing which restaurant to eat at. I think it’s sort of funny (well, not really) that our fear of rejection eventually led us to reject each other.
Early last summer I went on tour. I left Ashleigh and the dogs at home, loaded up a trailer with musical equipment, hooked it up to the back of an old suburban, and drove across Texas and Colorado and Kentucky playing music on my guitar.
Five other guys went too (it was their suburban). They were in a band together, and collectively they called themselves Yours Truly — a name I admittedly thought rather egocentric at the time.
I opened for Yours Truly most of those gigs, which meant that they took the stage after I finished playing. Sometimes we set up inside, sometimes outside –– and the strange thing about the outdoor shows was that we generally got rained on. And by we, I mean Yours Truly (not me, of course, but the band).
Somehow, I always managed to wrap my set up before the storms hit, leaving the guys to fend for themselves in the elements. We laughed about this often, saying my music brought on the terrible weather. I suppose I do tend to write rather gloomy tunes, and if I could make the people cry, why not the sky, too?
It was an ongoing joke, but not really, because I’ve always heard that there’s a little truth in every joke we tell.
Most of my musician friends in Nashville used to say that one of the hardest things about touring is having to spend countless hours cooped up in a bus with other road-weary people. Fortunately, it wasn’t all that hard for us. Most of the guys liked to sleep, and the drummer Mike and I liked to drive, so we filled our respective roles well and didn’t argue all that much. We were just happy to be out doing something, being in motion.
So surprisingly, the toughest parts didn’t happen while trying to survive the miles together — those, after all, were like inches on a giant measuring tape showing us our progress toward the lives we’d always dreamed for ourselves.
The toughest parts happened when we were still.
We hung around in Austin, TX for a few days before we played our first show there, in a park near where the band’s bass player, Tim, grew up. The show featured the Yours Truly guys, a local Reggae band, and me, whose duty it was to kick it all off, of course. I guess I didn’t appreciate the responsibility that particular day.
Having already become a little grumpy that I’d been given a thirty minute-long set compared to the other bands’ hour-long performances, I took to setting up the merch table in stubborn isolation, casting long glances at anyone who offered to help, making no attempt to engage the folks turning up to watch our show from the grass.
This was my normal response to frustration: find some place to fume alone. This, unfortunately, rarely helped with anything except making me more suspicious of people.
I waited. The local band scheduled to play after me didn’t show up to sound check, so we checked without them until I was supposed to go on. They still didn’t show.
According to the noise ordinance, we had to wrap up the show in two-and-a-half hours.
So we discussed my options: I could go ahead and start playing, and cut my set shorter still so that the band could sound check when they arrived, or I could chance it and wait around until after the band made it and sound checked, so that I could start the show after them. Either way, the length of time I had to play was getting shorter by the minute.
“What do you want to do?” they guys kept asking me.
“I don’t know,” I told them. “You choose.”
We ended up waiting. The Reggae band arrived thirty minutes late, its members completely inebriated. That, of course, made sound check a little more difficult than usual, so when it was all said and done we started nearly an hour behind schedule, and my set had come and passed unnoticed.
I wasn’t going to play. And I wasn’t happy about it.
Before the Yours Truly guys went on, I took Jared (the frontman) aside and yelled at him like I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at anyone ever. I told him how crummy I thought his band was and how if it hadn’t been for me, they’d have never been on tour at all. It wasn’t lovely. It wasn’t triumphant or even satisfying. But more important than anything else, it also wasn’t fearful.
Later in our friendship, Jared told me that that butt chewing was the proudest he’d ever been of me. I had been terribly rude and selfish, but somehow, on the breath of all those loud words that I only half-meant, I began to shed some of my first fears. We tossed curses and apologies back and forth until, quite unexpectedly, a completely new sort of friendship began to take form in my life — one sparked by honesty.
I think God knew I would need those kinds of honest friendships long after our tour, when I came back to my home and to Ashleigh, and recognized immediately the mountain of dishonesty we’d built between ourselves. It had come time to move it.