I have no business describing myself as a mature adult. The adult part is true enough, but the mature thing, well . . . there’s more honesty in saying maturity is a part-time thing with me. I can be reliable, accountable and responsible when I should or need to be, but if you take me with you when you go shopping I will wander off and go exploring if I’m not on a leash. I watch movies when I should be doing my taxes; if there’s an offshore flow I’ll go to the beach instead of going to work. I’d rather take a bath than a quick shower, popcorn can be dinner, and I will get really, really mad if I’m telling the truth but you don’t believe me.
But neither do I fill egg shells with red paint and throw them out of a moving car on the freeway at night anymore; I was ten the last time I did that. And I no longer steal cassette tapes by slipping them in my socks while pretending to tie my shoe; I gave that up in my early twenties, within seconds of being caught for the first time.
With me, becoming a grownup – a mature adult – took some getting used to. It wasn’t that I avoided growing up. . . I just wanted to spend my life doing whatever I wanted, whenever I felt like it. That particular brand of immaturity and naïveté had a time-release quality to it, entering my system during my high school years after my parents divorced, spreading through my system with subtle effect until I graduated, then kicking in, full-strength, with one phone call, at the end of my first and only year at a Boston college of music:
“Hi mom; instead of coming straight home, is it okay if I fly to Nebraska and drive back to the Bay Area with my girlfriend?”
The pause on the other end was short. . .
“You don’t have to ask me for permission anymore. You’re eighteen years old; you can do whatever you want.”
After hanging up the pay phone in my dormitory hallway I zombie-walked to the elevator . . . rode it to the lobby . . . walked outside onto Massachusetts Avenue, and emerged into a completely different world than the one I’d been born into.
The grownup move would have been to work through the summer and return to Berklee College of Music in the fall with some living expense money in my pocket. But I was an eighteen year-old nature-loving male, in full possession of the keys to the rest of my life and a brand new pair of eyes: when school let out I flew to Nebraska, drove and camped my way from North Platte to Fremont across the Continental Divide and through the deserts of the Southwest, feeling as though that spectacular half-a-million square mile area had been given to me.
I never returned to Berklee, but I did grow up enough to get a full-time job, work my up from busboy to head-cook-in-training, and afford an apartment of my own. That was right about the time my dad passed away, another piece of life-changing news involving my mother and a very short phone conversation. My vision of a career in the restaurant business blurred after that; six months later I was making my living as a drummer, heeding the excellent advice from my dad in his last letter to me.
Along with four years’ worth of a successful music career came the weed and the women, which softened me up pretty good. I was well into my thirties, music now a part-time hobby, before becoming conscious of how uncomfortable I was in the company of mature men, or even just guys – dudes who like to have a few beers and talk about guy shit like cars, sports, or women. I began that bit of growing up the night I spotted, from a distance, one of my part-time band mates leaning against the bar during a break at a gig, bottle of beer in one hand, talking as casually as you please to some leather-skinned old guy wearing a grimy cowboy hat – a local, old-school, real-deal rancher, stopping in for a beer and a bit of country music at the end of his dusty, earthy work day.
I felt a combination of admiration and envy watching my band mate casually and comfortably mining life-on-the-farm stories from the old rancher. It made me aware of how reserved and intimidated I typically felt in the presence of anyone with a stronger handshake and more testosterone than me. From that moment on I began making an effort to knock off being such a weenie when it came to hanging out with dudes and, lo and behold, within a few short years of behaving like a regular guy, I got comfortable as could be chatting up anyone with a story they were willing to tell
And, lastly, I’ve grown up noticing how my definition of love changes as the years go by. What I thought love was when in my teens turned out to be way wrong when I hit my twenties, and though by my early thirties I’d learned quite a bit more, it didn’t make me smart enough to see that the majority of my relationships had been based more on mutual use and convenience than love. Sharing rent and living expenses with girlfriends just made it easier to avoid having to work harder and/or longer so I could afford a place of my own. It was shameful and emasculating the way I dragged that habit behind me like a filthy security blanket, from one relationship to the next, up to and including my dysfunctional marriage. By the end of the inevitable divorce my definition of love had taken on an odor of cynicism; I decided it was better to be single, happy, and lonely sometimes than married, lonely, and happy sometimes, a perspective I’ve found to be equal parts truth and poignancy, yet serving me quite well.
Life and love are doing just fine these days, thankyouverymuch. I’ll say more about them later, maybe in a book. Until then, I have a lot of growing up to do.