I used to feel that four years was a very long time span. Entire stages of my life took place in four-year chunks. And now? I feel like I have spent the past four years living in an alternate reality, where I have been so squarely focused on survival and trying to be the best dad possible, that I have neglected many (most?) of the things that used to give me meaning, including writing. It has gone by way too quickly. My youngest daughter was born in December 2014. She will turn 4 in two weeks. I'm not sure how I let myself go so long without translating my thoughts into words.
I started keeping a journal 20 years ago--the first entry was on my 25th birthday. I remember feeling like I had speedskated through my young adult years, and that I had let many of my thoughts and memories fade away. Having gone through that stage of life in the time before smartphones and social media, I have very few photos of my 18-25 years. (It's amazing how, not too long ago, people had to ration their taking of photos, because there was a fairly substantial cost involved in buying film and paying for prints--now my kids snap 100 frames in 5 minutes with no qualms whatsoever!)
Anyhow, I kept a fairly regular journal over the next few years, writing every couple of weeks. This peaked during my trip to Israel at the end of 1999, when I wrote nearly every day on the tour bus. This was the height of my attempt to document and preserve my experiences.
Back in 2001, the year my life burned down, the purpose of my writing shifted. I spent most of my time that year writing notes to my parents and other family members to try to stop their assault on me. When I moved to Maine at the beginning of 2002, it shifted again, and I spent the next two years writing a novel that was a (lightly) fictionalized version of my life--this more or less replaced my journal. From 2004 to 2009 I continued to write fiction. During this time I produced several short stories and started working on two more novels. Then, in 2010, after my life burned down again, I turned to blogging about my experiences as a long-distance dad. That lasted through 2014, when I gained custody of my kids. In the last paragraph of the last entry I wrote in November 2014, I mused: "I am not sure if I will continue to write about my parenting experiences from here on out, as they really aren't going to be that much different from anyone else's."
That statement has proven to be both completely true and completely false. It is completely true that I have not continued to write about my parenting experiences (or anything else, which I'll get back to). It is, however, completely false that my parenting experiences haven't been different from the norm. On that point, being the custodial parent of two kids who have a long-distance mom presents a very different set of challenges. I intend to focus at least some of my future writing on this topic. For now, I'll just say that I now know that I should have attempted to get custody of them several years earlier than I did. The longer I let them stay in a toxic situation, the more damage it did to them. They are in Maine right now, visiting their mom for Thanksgiving. I will never be OK with them visiting her, even though I know that they love her and they cherish their time with her. Oh, their drunk stepdad is still in the picture, but that's definitely a story for another day.
Back to the true part of my prediction, I have allowed the day-to-day reality of my life over the past four years swallow me whole. I have left behind nearly all of the life that I used to live. I have cut myself off from most of the people, places, and things that meant so much to me. I have narrowed the scope of my existence to little more than work, parenting, keeping a home, and sleeping. I have grown very depressed and hopeless and have lost the urge to express myself in any meaningful way. I have occasionally had moments when I thought that I would love to sit down and write again, but I have never mustered the motivation to actually do it. I have continually held on to the idea that I love to write and, moreover, that I need to write.
For 16 years, as I progressed through multiple stages of my life, writing was the through-line that connected all of those times and places. I started writing as a 25-year old living in a high-rise apartment in DC. Over then next 16 years, I wrote in a multitude of places: my guest room, my office, coffee shops, hotel rooms, airports and even once on a ferry boat. My last entry, four years ago, was written in my basement "man cave" in Virginia. We sold that house in 2016 and moved back to Georgia, to a larger, nicer home that lacks a similar space. In my mental and emotional state, I have not been able to find it within myself to fight for having a space for myself and my thoughts. It has taken until right now, when I am sitting alone in my office on the day before Thanksgiving when everyone else has gone home to finally start writing again.
It feels wonderful. My thoughts are flowing. My pulse rate is up, though that could just be the coffee. I am going to figure out a way sometime in the next few days to block out a place for myself where I can get back to work. I am a writer. This is what I need to do. I will be back.