They say if you want to understand the kid, you gotta look at the parents. That’s what the kid’s doing. He’s looking at his folks. They’re his model. They’re there to help him make sense of the world, to teach him the rules.
When I was a kid, I thought my dad was the greatest. He was stern, he laid down the law, but he was fair, and he knew what was right. Plus, he was like, a hero. He’s a doctor, saving people’s lives, making people feel better. When I was 10 years old, I was pretty sure I was going to grow up to be a doctor just like my dad.
Then one day 14 year old me walked in on him in flagrante delicto with a pharmaceutical saleswoman. And suddenly, I wanted to be nothing like my dad. He moved out a few weeks later. The world didn’t make sense anymore. The rules didn’t matter anymore. Fuck the rules, and fuck him for doing that to my mom and my little brother. Fuck it all.
Ever since, I’ve been an impulsive guy. A lot of times I don’t think about what I’m doing. I do what I feel like doing. Fuck the rules.
When I was 17, I got caught up with a gang. I was selling dope at school, cutting class to get high and pull pranks, I was a stupid kid. The summer after graduation, I somehow ended up on the wrong person’s shit list, and one evening after making a run to my supplier, I was jumped by a group of thugs and beaten, left bloody and unconscious on the ground. I was lucky, because I was still alive. I woke up, like out of a long bad dream, and pulled myself up off of the concrete. I was through fucking around. I moved to LA for school, and when I came back home the following summer, I heard that the guy who had it in for me had been shot in the face and killed. That could have been me.
As I grew up, I started to realize I’m just like my dad. It took travelling 5000 miles away from him to really see him for the first time. See, he’s an impulsive guy, too. He doesn’t think about what he’s doing. He does what he feels like doing. And though he and my mom both came from small towns in the midwest, they couldn’t be worse suited for each other. They probably shouldn’t have been together in the first place.
Anyway, the same impulsiveness that put me in a gang put me on a plane to Japan a few years later, where I stayed for the next 10 years. And when I saw the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen one day in a park in Japan, it was that same impulsiveness that had me talk to her, move in with her, and eventually marry her after impulsively knocking her up.
One Monday morning I went into work in my new Japanese home, and everything started shaking, and the shaking became thrashing, and the thrashing became coffee cups and computers flying through the air. I sat frozen under my desk, pissing my pants, staring at a girl across the aisle pissing hers. She wore the expression of someone who knows that they are going to die. That was my face, reflected in hers.
Aftershocks of 7 on the richter scale continued throughout the day, a constant reminder of how fragile life really is.
With a pregnant wife at home, I was already worried enough. But then this news started to come in about a damaged nuclear power plant up the coast, and a few hours later one of the five reactors at the plant exploded. Immediately, I thought of our baby. I called my wife, and she was alright, thank god. We decided that if another reactor went, we were going to leave. As soon as I hung up the phone, boom, there was another explosion.
Without an instant of thought, I dropped everything, left the office, picked her up and we took a bullet train as far away as we could get. This was my chance to prove that I would be there for my kid in a way that my dad never was for me. The next morning we were on a flight to my mother’s house in the US. We didn’t have anything worked out, everything had been left behind. No work, no stuff, no home of our own. But it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that baby.
But though we spend a lot of our lives trying to convince ourselves otherwise, the thing about life is that you don’t control what happens. Shit just happens, or it doesn’t, despite our best efforts. Somewhere between all the stress of moving and jumping headfirst into the unknown, we lost the baby.
Maybe I didn’t act fast enough. Maybe I should have left after the first explosion, or right after the quake. Or maybe it was chromosomal like the doctors said. Either way, I was blaming myself. And boom, I was right back to where I was at 17, doing drugs, drinking, anything to make the pain go away, the pain that had been there since I was 14. But it was still there. Sometimes it had hidden quietly in the back corners of my mind, but it had always been there.
There was something different this time. I had somebody in my life who didn’t quit on me. And that somebody was just as torn up about the loss of our child as I was. That’s when I realized I needed to grow the fuck up.
I somehow managed to get a good job, and I thought paying my taxes and taking care of my wife and doing the right thing would make it go away. But it didn’t. It was there, and it was always going to be there. This is life. Life is pain. It’s a lot of other things, too, but there will always be pain.
It’s a part of who we are. In denying that, I’d been denying myself. But in accepting it, there was a new possibility. Using it. Expressing it. Letting it light a fire in me.
Now I try to see the pain as a blessing. It’s an anchor, keeping us rooted in the real, reminding us that death is at the heart of life. It pushes us to seek something deeper, to pursue a deeper truth. It’s always there, whispering in our ear if we’ll only stop running from it for a moment and listen:
“Time is precious. Now is all we’ve got. Make the most of it.”