Thursday, March 11, 2010

The "Domino Effect" and lemonade

The “Domino Effect” and lemonade

For those of you with ADD or short attention spans and don’t want to read all of this, go to the last two paragraphs and I’ll sum up!

Where does one begin when they describe the total failure and then redemption of their life? It seems like it’s a lot of little choices that begin to take a toll long before we realize the avalanche has started.

I married my first wife in March of 1990. While we were married, I was a youth pastor and music minister. I served in a couple of different churches and felt the call of God on my life. Those of you who know me know that I can be pretty flakey, but God worked with me in spite of that fact. I had a youth group of over 200 kids in our “small town”. My marriage was up and down, but I tried hard to make it work. We have three children together. In May of 2000 she filed for divorce. We reconciled shortly after and remarried in April of 2001. We split again in October of 2001 and were divorced a final time. I know what you’re thinking…but, it takes two to tango, no? Right before we split, I landed a gig with a cover band in “big town” playing drums and started making waves on the local music scene. We became very popular and started playing 3-4 nights a week. I was working a full time job as well. When I found myself single again, I wasn’t necessarily looking for someone, but I found someone anyway! I married my wife Donna in October of 2003. She was everything a weird, flakey, eccentric musician like me could ever want.
I picked up a couple of bad habits along the way: I started drinking regularly and started smoking. I’d like to say that I was just following along with the status quo of the successful musician, but let’s be honest; I desperately wanted to fit in and seem cool. Growing up in “small town”, basically bereft of a music scene, being with the “in crowd” was new and exhilarating to me. It was almost like an addiction. I found myself drinking more and more and doing some really stupid things. It was also during this time that I had a career change from body shop estimator/manager to college instructor. Lot’s of things were happening. I was training to be a martial artist at a karate dojo that my father-in-law, Robert Halliburton, was the Sensei. He was a 7th degree black belt, and tough as a two dollar steak! My wife Donna is a 1st degree black belt. I was getting more and more calls to play with different bands.
Now, while I was married to my first wife, I never so much as looked at another woman. In March of 2004, I had an affair. A groupie that was always following the band around caught my attention. I resisted, knowing that it was wrong but because I drank A LOT when I played, I didn’t have my normal senses about me. During this time I was trying to get along with my ex-wife and was telling her about my affair. I confided in her because she was confiding in me about her recent relationship and marriage and how it wasn’t going well. Then we got into an argument regarding the kids and my visitation with them. That night, she called my wife and told her everything that I had confided to her. I was in deep, hot, stinky water. Donna and I were able to work through it, but it took quite a while for things to return to normal. I felt awful, betrayed, stupid, insecure, selfish and a host of other terrible feelings. During this period, my wife’s sister Aly had a boyfriend and they planned to marry. He committed suicide on March 8th, 2004. Right in the middle of my infidelities. Life was not so grand anymore…

Flash forward to August 2007. My father-in-law hadn’t been feeling well and we took him to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with diabetes, several ulcers and a severe iron deficiency. He was literally bleeding out through his stomach. They also discovered a spot on his lung (smoker) but it wasn’t determined if it was benign or not. He went home a few days later and was feeling much better after insulin shots, iron pills and cauterized ulcers. I was playing so much with the different bands I was associated with that I wasn’t there a majority of the time for him or my wife. I was too concerned about making sure that I kept up my façade of living the “rock star” life: too much drinking, too much smoking, and too much attention from all the wrong people. Also, since January of 2006, my three children were living with my parents off and on because my ex-wife was such a complete loser. Now let me explain…why didn’t I go and get them? I was selfish. I wanted my own life free of her entanglements. My ex had a history of making major decisions and then recanting within six to eight months. So, I wasn’t going to completely leave my life behind to go back to “small town living” when I knew she’d change her mind in a few months. My parents were putting major pressure on me to move back and take care of my children. I tried to tell them that it would all change when my ex changed her mind; but it kept dragging on and on. Then things between my wife and I started to go south, big time. She was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and generalized anxiety disorder. We had been recently fired from the college we were both working at. She had been a part-time teacher, then full-time, then department director and ultimately Dean of Academics. Eight years of her blood, sweat and tears gone. She could hardly get out of bed considering the condition her father was in and losing her job. I had started as a part-time instructor, then went to full-time status and eventually earned the Dean of Students position. During that year that we were both deans, we were pulling down a very substantial amount of money. We traveled twice a month to Carmel, Vegas, Disneyland, anywhere we wanted to. We had two new cars, credit cards, constant new wardrobes, shopping sprees…you name it, and we had or did it. A fairytale life by all accounts. Donna and I lost our positions as Deans when we stood up to the corporate position of enrolling students with major learning disabilities. We didn’t think it was right to put disabled students on the hook for $35K when there was no way they could ever finish the program. It was just all bad. When it all came crashing down, I just had no idea how to react. I felt mounting pressure by a lot of those around me to cut and run. I started hanging out in a bar in “small town”. Everyone loved my band, loved the “new” me and fed me a bunch of crap. I had shaved my head, pierced my ears and got tattooed. They stroked my ego, made me feel accepted when I hadn’t really felt that in my home town. Now, I’m blaming no one but myself here; just a frame of reference. I spent less and less time at home with my wife and father-in-law and more and more time with my band mates, drinking more and generally ignoring my family, my kids and my responsibilities.
In April of 2008, my father-in-law passed away from cancer. Apparently, the spot on his lung wasn’t so benign. It had metastasized to his heart, liver and kidneys. He was the greatest man I had ever known. He accepted me as I was, didn’t ask me to be anything that I wasn’t and was just an incredible roll model. He taught me that being true to one’s self is everything and that he tried everyday to accomplish this but that it was a life long journey. My wife and sister-in-law were, to say the least, completely crushed. Over 1,500 people attended his funeral. I was so devastated by the loss of him that I turned to the things that had been working for me so far: drinking and the wrong people.
I was playing a lot of gigs throughout the summer of 2008. I decided, with a lot of “help” from friends, family and my ex that I needed to move back to “small town” and take care of my kids. My parents assumed that meant that I would move back in with them. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I felt that moving in with my parents at my age would be a total “loser” move. A girl I had been hanging out with had recently become single and she asked me to move in with her. In August of 2008, I called my wife and told her I was leaving her. I couldn’t deal with all of this anymore, my kids and my family needed me and we didn’t have much of a relationship anymore anyway.
I moved out and started a relationship with the other girl. My daughter came to live with me while my boys stayed with my parents, because according to them, that’s what they all wanted. So, I was back in “small town” and being the dad that my kids needed. I was still playing gigs, but it was getting more difficult because I was an hour away from “big town”. I decided in October to take a break from music and be there for the kids. My weekends were pretty much shot if I played so it seemed like the thing to. Things were going well with me, my family and my kids. I was still drinking pretty heavily and my parents didn’t like it. My relationship with my daughter was becoming strained because she didn’t like the girl I was living with or her son. My ex visited a couple of times during October and November. She seemed to like that I was there and was being congenial towards me. I took this as a good sign. However, things were not at all what they seemed. My daughter was constantly complaining to her mother about how unhappy she was. In December, my ex moved in with my parents. I know! I felt so betrayed that I just didn’t know how to act. I talked to my estranged wife a couple of times during this period, but mostly I just wanted to make sure that she was okay. Obviously, she wasn’t.
The relationship with the girl I was living with deteriorated almost the moment I moved in. I started fighting with my parents about my ex living with them. We had some very nasty conversations. Insults and threats were the order of the day whenever we talked. I saw my kids a couple of more times after my ex moved in with my parents, but it was already obvious that she was going to take them away from me again. She’d done it before so I had no reason to doubt that she was planning to do it again. She had reconciled with her ex-husband and they were playing “the happy family” with my kids and my parents. They were planning to move to a “big town” close to the coast and that was it. No dad in the picture, no me…just them and their “pipe dream” of a plan to live happily ever after. Rumor has it that they’re unhappy again. Imagine that! My poor kids…
I was laying in bed at the end of April in 2009. I couldn’t sleep. I’d been awake and was restless. I started to pray that God would give me direction. Tell me what to do. After a minute or so, I heard a voice say, “get up, call your wife and go home”. I looked around to see who had spoken to me. I realized I was alone. Crazy! So, I got up and called Donna. It was around 12:30 a.m. I didn’t realize that it was so late. Thank God she answered. We talked for about an hour. I cried and cried and kept saying that I’d screwed up and that I wanted to come home. I just wanted to come home. It was 3:30 in the morning when she finally arrived in “small town” to take me home. I raced to the car, threw my laptop and clothes into the car and immediately went into shock. I couldn’t believe that this was happening and that I was going home. I cried and cried and kissed her and told her I was sorry, over and over again. She smiled at me and said that she forgave me. We drove home at that early hour and got into our bed for the first time in nine months.
My sister-in-law Aly was happy that I was home. Apparently, things had not being going well with her and her current boyfriend. They were fighting all the time and it would get pretty violent. Donna and Aly made me promise not to get involved with the arguments because it would make it worse for her. I promised that I’d stay out of it. However, after a few nights there, it became more and more difficult to turn a blind eye to what was going on between them. He was involved in some really bad things and had a terrible temper. I would hear them fight and I would pace back and forth in our room fuming. I couldn’t believe things had gotten so bad for her. I finally yelled though the door one night “shut up you freakin’ crack head”. He called me out and it was by sheer will that my wife kept me from breaking every bone in his body. I’m a trained martial artist and it would’ve been child’s play for me to put him down and put him down in a bad way. He’d leave for a day then come back, say he was sorry, say he was going to change and that it was going to be different. He’d be good for a couple of days, but then it would get worse than it was before.
In June of 2009, Aly had had enough. They’d been fighting off and on for two days. She finally told him to get his stuff and get out. He moped around the house but I hadn’t seen Aly that happy in years. He finally left that afternoon. Aly was on cloud nine. She planned to go out to a bar that night where her friend Cody was the bartender. She brought Donna and me something to drink and was on her way. Donna and I had been busy all day and turned in early.
At two in the morning, Cody knocked on our bedroom door. We had left the door to the house open for Aly. Aly had left the bar because “boyfriend” showed up and started a fight with her. Aly had left and Cody didn’t know where she was. I was half asleep and didn’t really understand what was going on. I just figured it was more of the same for Aly and her boyfriend. I went back to bed and fell immediately asleep. At three thirty Cody was knocking on our door and she was in absolute hysterics. She said that Aly was in the garage and that we needed to get up. I was groggy and didn’t understand what was going on. I jumped up because Donna was screaming at Cody and asking her what was happening. Confused as I was, I understood that something was terribly wrong. Cody kept saying to call 911. She handed me the phone and told me to go into the garage. She was sobbing, freaking out. I told Donna to stay in the house. I went into the garage and couldn’t reconcile what I saw with reality. This couldn’t be real. No way. Not ever. I saw Aly hanging from a rafter by an extension cord. She was dead. She was only 28 years old. I started shaking uncontrollably. I remember telling my hand to dial 911. I was shaking so badly that it took me three tries to finally get it right. When the 911 operator came on the line I described what was happening. The only thing I remember is the operator asking me if she was still alive and if I could get her down…
The most heartbreaking thing I’ve heard in my life was Donna and Aly’s mother screaming and crying over the phone when Donna told her what had happened. She was all the way in “small town” Georgia. Dominos falling and falling and falling…
Aly had the most intimate and beautiful funeral I’ve ever attended. I sang “Purple Rain” by Prince because she and I loved that song. I would always sing it for her when she came to see me play. Her friends talked about what a fierce friend she was and how she lived like no other person: by her own rules, her own way without a thought about what other people thought. She was a true, beautiful individual and an original.
Right after the funeral, Donna and I were evicted from our home. We’d spent everything we had for Aly’s funeral. We were already behind on rent, but the thing that sucks is that the landlord was a very close friend of Donnas’ dad. He had trained with him in the 70’s and early 80’s. We pretty much sold everything we owned to pay the last months rent. You’d think that he’d understand. That’s how the world turns I guess.
So now Donna and I are in Georgia with her mother, Faye. We moved here in July of 2009. In August of 2009, Robert Halliburton received a posthumous award at the “Battle of Atlanta” martial arts tournament. He was an internationally known martial artist, competitor, referee and teacher. His contemporaries were the likes of Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Joe Lewis (not the boxer) and Ed Parker, the creator of Kenpo Karate. Search the Internet regarding him and you’ll be amazed at what you see; I was! He received so many awards and trophies over the years that he actually threw some of them away. Donna accepted on her dad’s behalf. It was bittersweet.
We still don’t know if Aly’s death was suicide or foul play; I believe foul play. I guess we’ll see. I still don’t see my kids. I talk to my parents now but it’s strained. I’ve struck up a really great relationship with my youngest brother Chad. My brother Steve and I haven’t talked since December of 2008. I did something stupid and we haven’t been able to work it out. I’ve lost so many people in the last few years, but I don’t want it to seem like I’m having a pity-party. Life sometimes hands you lemons.
I started this blog with the intention of revealing a little bit of me to you. I hope that you’ll see past this poorly described life journey and see what life can be. My father-in-law told me that life is a journey. It’s not a destination; you never really arrive. You just live. My wife loves me and forgave me. I forgave myself. I forgave my ex. I forgave my parents. I forgave my brother. I still miss my kids. I don’t mourn the loss of my college instructor position, cars, trips and shopping sprees. You shouldn’t mourn the things that you can’t change. Even though we sometimes do: it’s human nature. You can’t let the bad things become a defining moment in your life. What you can do is celebrate life, live it, experience it, relish it. You can take the lemons and make a sour face or you can make lemonade. God didn’t turn His back on me; I turned my back on Him. Not to be all preachy, but I really feel Him for the first time in my life. I’m not pretending anymore. I can’t offer an epiphany, only what I’ve learned. I hope that this touches you somehow. Maybe you’ll say “Wow, my life doesn’t suck so bad after all”, or “I totally know what you mean man. I’ve been there!” Either way, life will go on. How you decide to live has everything to do with how you filter life. The good events, the bad ones; the ones that defy explanation. Why are we here? Because we’re here. Roll the bones!


Blogger Mckenzie said...

Life deals you some crappy cards, but how you play then makes the outcome.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Kassi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Kassi said...

Hey Craig...Kasandra here! Wow, thanks for sharing your personal story. You made me cry! Glad to hear you're putting Him first. He'll deal with those who haven't reconciled with you..all you can do is live to please Him. It's not an easy thing to do. Blessings to you!! Love ya..Kas~

7:46 PM  
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8:12 PM  

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