Escaping from life is what I did best. I still look for respite in my own ways. Playing and watching sports allowed my young brain to process life. As a young kid in the 70’s, I didn’t get this cerebral. I didn’t experience life and think, “I’m going to escape into a ‘Field of Dreams’ like world of fantasy.” It just happened.
A typical Saturday would start off with a healthy bowl of sugar cereal in a baseball uniform. I would then run the backyard and “set up” the game. The game consisted of me pitching for the Cleveland Indians in game 7 of the World Series against the Yankees. For baseball purists, I understand now this is illogical. They play in the same league and playing in the same World Series is impossible. To those of you who are this literal, fuck off, it’s my story. I was elaborate in preparation. All bases were covered with intended pun. I wore my Tribe uniform. I called the play by play. Every pitch was a strike out to clinch the game. I would then hit in the bottom of the 9th, down three runs, with the bases juiced. There were two out, two strikes and the crowd silently roaring. “3-2 pitch to Butze…Swing. It’s going back back back and gone. The Indians win the World Series. The Indians Win!” Depending on the amount of mud in the yard, there’s also a scenario where the winning home run is an inside-the-park job with a muddy hook slide.
After my imaginary game is complete, the uniform is removed and replaced with a soccer uniform. We are now in the World Cup. In this scenario, young Brandt Butze, is playing for West Germany. I’m playing alongside Müller and Rummenigge. I scored the game winner to defeat <insert country> every time. I led the World Cup in goals, saves, and slide tackles. Muddied but undaunted, the soccer (fussball) uniform was retired for the day, and the next sport awaited. In the winter, I played hockey. The streetlamps lit “The Pond” at the corner of Fernway and Warrington. I was the leading scorer of the New York Islanders who would defeat a host of teams in the Stanley Cup. I played for hours. Eventually, the neighborhood kids awakened, and my sport fantasy world would have to wait until much later.
I experienced traumatic episodes and enjoyed a healthy balance of imbalance as a child. I am a bit paradoxical in both experience and response. I was neither sad nor happy. Those moments indulging in my heroism were safe and pure. Perhaps the purest I’ve ever felt. Escaping to my field of dreams allowed me to be present in other ways. My reality exodus took multiple forms as the years turned. Music, along with drugs and alcohol numbed my pain. Most of my pain was self-inflicted rooted in trauma.
Music became my next outlet when everything else failed. My father made me listen to polka and classical on hockey road trips. I don’t think he knew the radio dial ever moved right of 89.3. I didn’t appreciate, then, the positive impact this music had on me. I was able to explore multiple instruments played in different ways. I found rap early which led to my love of jazz and rock. That led to my love of blues, jam music, led by Duane Allman, Buddy Guy, and the Grateful Dead.
Music replaced the void my fantasy sports life filled. It has allowed me to feel safe while facing the worst trauma I’ve ever known. Three years ago, we started a new journey. This journey was my son’s diagnosis with cancer. 16 months ago, today, that journey ended. Jacob died and we were left with the worst journey. The journey of sorrow. I introduced Jacob to music very early in his life. Like many dads, I started with my favorites. He appreciated my music and even liked some of it. He found a love in playing multiple instruments while exploring an acoustical vide. Music allowed an escape. Regardless of his mood or pain, he loved it. He gravitated toward pop and country. I would joke but I never dissuaded his choice. I go to his grave and play him country often. It’s not terrible. There I said it.
Listening to country now allows me to connect with him in his physical absence. I see him in my visions, drinking a beer (or 3) at Blossom with his boys in the parking lot. I can listen, close my eyes, smell the blossoms at the cemetery, and picture a different reality. In this reality, Jacob is taking Ana to a concert and sharing a cocktail with her while they dance. In this reality, Jacob is cancer free. In fact, he was never sick. The journey that started three years ago didn’t happen. The new journey of grief that started December 27, 2020, hasn’t happened. I control this narrative. In a world riddled in damage, Jacob is healthy. He’s graduating from college, heading to Chicago, and is going to do big things. The difference in this fantasy is that I am not the center of the world. My kids are doing it, with Naomi and I spectators. Here comes the 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th. It’s GONE!