- 2012 -
About a week after we returned home from tour, I stepped outside a Starbucks to call Jared and tell him I was quitting the band.
He’d left for a trip home to Nevada immediately after getting back to Nashville. I’d been trying to think of a proper time to tell him all tour, and figured waiting until afterwards was best. Besides, I’d told them before that I would wait to make a decision until after tour.
I’d talked with all the guys before about the tug-of-war between my own music and Yours Truly’s; I didn’t have time to fully commit myself to both. One had to take precedent, and my own finally won out. I decided it had come to the point to take a full-time roll as a singer/songwriter, and to put away the pop/rock rhythm guitar persona for a while. The business of our tour had clenched that decision.
I leaned over the wooden porch as I dialed his number, fighting the sinking feeling in my gut. I’ve always hated giving bad news, especially to a close friend.
When Jared answered, he explained that he was busy with family matters and didn’t have time to talk. I told him to call me back. He said he would.
I returned inside to the table, where Tim sat, unblinking and immovable, lost in the world he went to often in his own head. Still, he looked unusually flustered; he had his own news for Jared. Minutes later, he would step outside himself and place a call to our friend, announcing his departure from the band for similar reasons.
Of course after that, it didn’t take Jared long to guess the reason for my attempts to get a hold of him. He got back to me right away and I confirmed his suspicions: Yours Truly was now out a background vocalist and a bass player. Both calls ended on a rather unhappy note.
Afterwards, Tim and I sat in silence at one of those reclaimed wooden tables, staring guilty holes in our computer screens. I felt lousy, and couldn’t shake it. The band meant a lot to all of us; letting it go and disappointing a friend at the same time felt a little bit like giving your insides an indian burn. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of it.
“Hey,” Tim said to rouse me from my own inner world, his brows inclined, his voice small and shaky. “I know this probably isn’t the best time for this, but I’m moving out.”
- 1994 -
The first time I had to get my blood drawn, Dad probably had in mind that it was going to be a disaster. I imagine that as we walked through the hospital doors, he was fighting off mental images of his son kicking and screaming on the white tile floors while he and all available staff pinned me down just to get a few red drops out. Most of the kindergarteners Dad knew weren’t very fond of needles, after all.
But he’d made it into the hospital lobby with me fine enough. That was better than some kids.
He filled out the appropriate paperwork and we sat in the waiting room a while. My spirits still seemed reasonably high by the time the nurse emerged and called us into her small little office. Still, Dad had already started formulating a game plan. After the nurse instructed me to sit and then stepped away for a second, he leaned over to me.
“Just look at my face, buddy,” he said in my ear. “Don’t look at them, just look at me. Everything will be fine, okay?”
The nurse returned with her instruments and put on stretchy gloves –– the same kind I’d play with out in Mom’s pottery studio. She rolled my sleeve up and swabbed my arm; I imagine the apprehension in the room increased just then. Still, I kept my eyes on Dad and he kept his eyes on me.
“You’re going to feel a little pinch,” the nurse said. I ignored her. Dad had on a goofy smile.
A few breathless moments passed. Then at last, she sunk the needle in.
I held Dad’s gaze for as long as I could, but it wasn’t much use. I’m sure a silent sort of dread shot through him as he watched my attention turn away from him to the nurse. Perhaps he thought, as he anticipated my reaction, that tears or screams or bites or kicks were imminent (I had once bitten a dentist, but she’d had her fingers in my mouth, after all).
But to Dad’s surprise, I remained still. In the end, it wasn’t pain or fear or worry that pulled me away from my his eyes; it was curiosity.
I watched the nurse in silence as the end of the needle slowly filled up with blood –– my blood! And once she’d gotten all she needed, she pulled the point out of my arm and dabbed the skin with a cotton swab. I remained stoic.
“All done!” she said. “Very good, Blake! You didn’t cry even one tear! We don’t get kids like you very often.”
I was rewarded with a cartoon bandaid, and as soon as she’d applied it, Dad picked me up and sat me down in his lap. I looked at him, wondering if he’d been upset that I didn’t look at him the whole time. I knew by his smile that wasn’t the case at all.
“I’m so proud to be your daddy,” he said. Of course, that was the best reward of all.
We left the hospital without any trouble at all, and Dad continued to tell that story for years afterward (as well as many others about the courageousness of his children). And every time I heard him tell it, I’d wonder at how much that day had changed the way I thought about myself: I’d somehow shed the person who used to wallow in the face of pain or trouble. And even then, when trouble came, I wouldn’t simply do my best to just grin and bear it, turning my face away, pretending and hoping that it would all be over soon. No, the story reminded me: I was becoming the kind of person who stared pain down, who watched it carefully to see how it worked.
If my present-day self was confronted with my five-year-old self, I’d hope kindergarten Blake would tell me about how he went to get his blood drawn, and didn’t cry a bit. And I hope present-day Blake would listen.
- 2012 -
“What did I do?” I asked.
Tim sighed. I think he figured that would have been my response –– to blame myself, to assume I’d spoiled something. No doubt he’d considered for a while how best to tell me, and do it in such a way that was helpful and ultimately beneficial.
“There are a lot of different reasons,” he said. “And yeah, I’m not going to lie, you’re part of it. You’re a very difficult person to be around sometimes. Your depression weighs on me, really heavy.”
Those words were pretty much all I latched onto. Even after he went on to say how he thought the move would ultimately be good for all of us, how he still wanted to help me beat depression, I had a hard time hearing anything else. We continued to clumsily hash things out for the next day or two, and the lump in my chest from having quit the band inflated like a balloon. My head grew foggy, like it did many times throughout that year; a prevailing shame and confusion choked my thinking. I don’t remember a good deal that was said.
I do, however, remember a good deal of the things I said to myself: you’re a poisonous, unwanted disaster. Your wife couldn’t stand to be around you, and neither can your best friends. History repeats itself, and all of this is proof: you will never be good enough for love. You will die, alone.
And almost exactly a year after Ashleigh told me that she was leaving for Colorado, Tim announced his plans to escape too.
The whole ordeal was a bit dramatic, of course. Tim was only moving into a different house, after all –– not ending a friendship. The fact that I became so upset about it was a hint to me: there was more going on in this story. History really was repeating itself.
If I were to turn the entirety of my relationship with Ashleigh into a novel, it would look pretty bland, I think. It would feature two rather static characters with nearly identical personalities, moving through the pages together but not together, estranged but completely codependent. She’d spend chapters on the couch, reading a fantasy novel, and he’d spend chapters in the study, playing his guitar. And when dinnertime came, they’d meet up to discuss (but not really) their dinner options until reaching a stalemate, at which point they’d just go to Cinco De Mayo so as not to upset anyone. You choose, they’d chime.
When you’re codependent with someone else, you’re always very worried about upsetting them.
And even before we were married, Ashleigh and I spent most of our time together. From becoming close friends after Clay’s death to discussing our faults with each other for the last time on the living room couch, we’d both spent a good portion of our lives learning how to attach ourselves completely and unhealthily to one another –– in such a way that we couldn’t really operate properly otherwise.
That was it: the biggest lesson I needed to learn after Ashleigh left wasn’t about being honest or trying to beat depression. It was one of independence. I had to learn how to function alone.
And instead of tackling it head on, like the little boy who once watched the nurse draw his blood, I just found other people to become attached to. I turned away from the problem. It didn’t help, obviously, and codependence tendencies persisted with certain side-effects –– fear, loneliness, depression, and the mindset that all the love in my life must be earned.
I guess most of us are always trying to be more mature. We’re all trying to grow.
I heard once from a wise man that maturity isn’t really a straight line; it bends back and forth over top itself and collides in grand explosions of sadness or anger. It gets all twisted up until you try and look down it and find that all your chapters have gotten tossed out of order. Your teenage years end up right next to college life; a childhood memory pops up right in between your current calamities.
But sometimes it’s better that way. Sometimes that’s the only way to make sense of the story of your life. Yeah, history does repeat itself. That means we’ll probably need to be willing to learn the same lesson over and over, more than just once or twice.
Once I got the courage, I realized Tim moving downtown was like that. I’d been given another opportunity to shed the old person who wallowed in pain and trouble, who clung to those nearby for protection. It was another chance to learn what I’d only begun to understand a year before, in a different context: that it wasn’t Ashleigh’s place to shield me from pain or trouble, and it wasn’t Jared’s or Tim’s either.