When escaping doesn’t work

Jacob’s faced is blocked but his expression is still priceless and carefree

Many of us look for “real life” escapes.  A brief departure from the mundane or stressful.  Perhaps we look to escape abuse or a bad breakup.  I turned to sports.  There was a pond behind my house that was filled by local firemen every winter.  I spent my winters there day and night.  My favorite times on “The Pond” were times alone, or with my older brother.  I migrated toward the smells of winter and sounds of skates digging into hard ice.  There wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be solved without doing that which I loved. 

My summers presented the same therapy between soccer and baseball.  Dirt was my friend.  I loved playing in the rain.  Somehow the natural smells and sounds quieted my ever-running mind.  As I grew up, sports, while still a large part of my therapy gave way to music.  I remember the day I heard “Les Bres in A Minor”, and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, along with “Dreams”, all by The Allman Brothers Band.  A new path for stress release was for paved.

As my music library expanded, so did my ability to cope with life.  This continued into sobriety.  As I write this, Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” plays in my right ear.  I was lucky enough to get married and have kids.  My love for music was conveyed to my kids.  I did my best to introduce my musical tastes without forcing them to like my music.  Okay, we did listen to a lot of “Dead” and 90’s rap.  Unapologetically, I think every kid should listen to BDP and Nas. 

Jacob picked up a guitar early.  He had a magical combination of natural ability and love for personal musical exploration.  He found YouTube teaching videos, eventually playing multiple instruments.  He found music as wonderful escape from stress, but also in this scientific method of trial and error.  Musicians use this exploration with their instruments to separate from those of us who can play chords. 

Jacob was diagnosed with cancer in 2019.  While his peers prepared for finals, Jacob prepared for a fight.  He was scared.  Shit, we all were.  We packed essentials like toothbrushes, underwear, jammies, shirts, and shorts.  He even had deodorant!  He was not going to the hospital without his ukulele.  His guitar arrived the following day. 

The early days and months of fighting cancer were spent playing his instruments.  Eventually, neuropathy in his fingers commenced.  Playing guitar became harder.  Jacob still had his ukulele.  One day, a year into the fight, we had a meaningful chat.  Conversations, hugs, smiles, and tears weigh heavier when you see a possible time limit.  Jacob was frustrated.  His two escapes were running and guitar. 

Like me, sport and music were his true loves.  He couldn’t run and his music became limited.  Bob Dylan wrote, “People tell me it’s a sin, to know and feel too much within.”  The song?  A Simple Twist of Fate.  Jacob needed an outlet that was no longer available. 

That tear-filed day, Jacob said something simply profound.  “When I grab my guitar, I don’t think a new song.  I think about my cancer.”  I instantly felt his pain, but I didn’t completely understand it until this weekend. 

I had planned to write on Saturday.  Writing has provided me that same comfort and outlet to another dimension.  Writing was never a burden.  My topics, while painful, offer me the ability to process my feelings.  Three days before Christmas, the world lost Jackie Acho.  I lost my writing partner and friend.  Our somewhat “dual posts” provided us, both, with topics for our therapeutical chats.  Since her death, I am finding writing fucking hard.  Really hard. 

So, instead of writing, I sat on the couch and flicked through the stations on the tele.  Nothing worked.  I looked out at a beautiful, sunny Cleveland day.  It was a crisp day.  I could see my neighbor in the distance playing hockey on her outdoor rink.  I can imagine the sound of skate blades cutting into fresh ice, but I was stuck. 

I don’t even cry like I did a few months back.  I have two choices.  Find healthy choices to express myself or keep trudging, and eventually the heart will follow.  I just don’t know.  Maybe that’s ok today.

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