We were talking on the phone and I said, “you know, we could really use a ride in The Buttah.”
“Amen,” he said. And he continued, “y’know, when I sold that car I feel like I lost a piece of my identity.”
The Buttah was a late model American-made, two-door sedan the exact color of aged butter. The “he” in this scenario is an old friend from college: someone with whom I took a few small adventures in that rarefied time between graduating from college and becoming an actual adult.
I was one of those children and young adults who didn’t really have a passionate focus on any one endeavor. Many varied pastimes interested me, and I never could choose on which one I should focus. Road trips in The Buttah were like steeping in a mud bath: relaxing and so far out of context from every day life that nothing else seemed to matter.
My most memorable non sequitur from a Buttah trip involved pulling into the outskirts of Cleveland, OH as the sun was rising behind us. We had begun a road-trip to Chicago for a mutual friend’s birthday late the night before in Boston, and as the haze of driving all night began to lift with the rising sun, the clarity made us realize that we should probably stop driving and get something to eat. We didn’t want to get caught up in the center of Cleveland – searching for not yet open coffee shops through unknown streets – so as soon as we saw a road sign indicating that there was an eating establishment close to an offramp from Route 90 Westbound, we took an exit and found this place to “eat.”
There were only two cars in the parking lot of this place that was neither in a neighborhood, nor locked in a near-urban strip mall. The surroundings were almost desolate, but obviously once urban. We knew it was open. We both had to pee. We were both quasi hungry, but our bodies were confused from short fits of interrupted sleep attempted in two hour shifts while the other drove.
As we entered this place, we quickly realized to whom the two cars belonged: the cook / waitress, and the only patron at the bar. Yes, the bar.
Seven AM, and this guy had two empties, and a full beer in front of him.
The only thing that really worried us about this scene was how good or bad the scrambled eggs were going to be. Yes, they served scrambled eggs, and while they were not the best I had ever had, they were surprisingly good given the environment.
Oddly, however, I miss this.
Do I miss walking into an establishment and seeing a man three beers deep at seven o’clock in the morning? No. But I do miss the freedom of leaving for a roadtrip at ten o’clock in the evening, and while having a plan for where we were going, not really knowing what details were in store for us.
As my friend said as we talked more about the Buttah-days, he doesn’t think that he’s had a truly creative moment wash over him since before his children were born. He’s a professional photographer. We talk often about the creative process, and how narcissistic it is: how much time it takes, and how wasteful the time it takes appears to others.
I had to agree with him about the creative process: about how my own truly creative moments have been few and far between over the past ten years. Gone are the days of walking across Boston with a notepad and a pen, taking a moment in the Public Gardens to watch the Swan Boats, or the tourists, meandering through Beacon Hill, taking in its architecture and aesthetic, walking through the State House, or sitting at the end of Long Wharf, watching the small recreational sail boats, and large Coast Guard cutters drift back and forth. I don’t miss Boston as much as I miss that freedom in between shifts waiting tables, or tending bar where I could discover myself in my surroundings, and scribble those findings onto a pad of paper unimpeded.
The need to do this has never gone away, so I’ve had to find other ways to quench this need.
I love my children, and I wouldn’t change my life with them for anything, but the results of unintended consequences have never failed to surprise me.
I had always thought being a father would be a great journey, but there was no way to ever comprehend exactly how much this journey would radically change my life: everything from the day-to-day tasks of my life, to how I view the world. But like so many other unintended consequences, it’s not like I understood the true impact of crossing over the threshold into fatherhood the day our first child was born. Sure the weeks after his arrival were filled with many sleepless nights, but like many uncomfortable moments, you con yourself into thinking that this-too-shall-pass. And pass it does, but it passes into another phase, and then five years into the journey you start to realize that life is never going back to where it was.
So is this exactly where I thought my life would be when I was 43 going on 44 years old?
Would I trade it for anything to go back to what it once was?
At certain, very specific times I might say yes – those times when I’m overwhelmed by anxiety – but for the most part…no, not for anything in the world. There are times before kids when it was just my wife and me that I look back upon and realize that we wasted. But like any good relationship, there’s nothing like the partnership I have with my wife, the intimacy of that relationship, and how it’s grown over the years, and how its grown specifically because of the things we’ve learned about ourselves, each other, and us, as we’ve sometimes careened, and sometimes meandered through this journey of parenthood. Where we are today is a couple could never have come about without kids. And then there are the simple things, like the joy that washes over me when either one of my boys look up at me and say “I love you, dad.” How can anyone want to trade anything for that?