"I have too much to lose. I've put down roots here. I can't tear them up. It would be too much risk. I have to stay the course."
"Two kinds of people in this world. Those who take risks and those who are too scared to take risks and just whine about how nothing in their lives ever changes. Don't be that kind of person. If you stay in this place the rest of your life you'll become just like the rest of these bozos."
was a clown
to many but an inspiration
to those who paid attention to the meaning behind his sometimes bizarre rants
. He had been many things in his life and gone many places. He refused to be defined by his job, his associations or his town. He had been married three times, trained as a mason
and did time with the Coast Guard
. For all this he worked alongside me in the post office
, filling in as a full time substitute letter carrier
but always refusing a regular mail route. He had even quit twice in the past in order to seek other paths but came back when the need arose
. It was his last job. It was the last of many, but when his body gave out on him the records would show that his last position was as a mail carrier. It wasn't the right path
for me. He knew that better than I did and he was the lone person
who rode in support of my complete change of direction
"We'll see each other again. Don't worry about that. We'll see each other again."
The final words given to you by a man injected with heavy doses of morphine to get him through a special day. It was his wedding day, the final wish of his long time live-in girlfriend. Two months earlier the doctors gave him six months to live. The cancer was eating him alive. There was the shell of a once great man standing before us, needing to go inside for long periods of time to collect his energy. It would be the last time I saw him alive. A week later I moved from central Massachusetts to Orlando, Florida. Two months later he would pass on to his next destination. He stopped to see me along the way. I did not know he had died, but on the night of his death he appeared at my bedside. One last joke from the man whose wit and sarcasm knew no boundaries.
"Hey, I told you we'd see each other again."
He smiled and laughed. Then he was gone. The humor of it all was more important than the promise. The next morning I got the phone call. Dave Malhoit had died in his sleep the day before. I already knew.
Malhoit's philosophy had always been that you can do anything you want in life. There are no real boundaries except for those we create ourselves. Some might curse Malhoit, and many did, for the paths he took in life. He left behind wives and family because he felt it was time to move on. He could never settle. He could never really even settle down. He was fifty-nine when he died, joking about how no one really ever wants to be sixty anyway. His body could not keep up with the spirit. He had become very frail over the last few years I knew him, and I never really knew him until he was close to the end. We took him to hockey games and we took him to see Bob Dylan. He put out an incredible buffet to welcome us to his home in order to watch Mike Tyson bite some ears ("These slices of madness leave me infinitely entertained"). He had a terrible habit of leaving his keys in the ignition of his truck, so we would jump in it and park it in random locations all around town. There was a boat in his driveway that could barely float and he would tell long stories about how he caught fish of great size and wonder in it. They were mostly lies that were amusing beyond a shadow of a doubt, and yet there were those he angered with his tall tales. How can you hate Paul Bunyan?
People hated him.
We loved him.
Nine and a half years invested as a mail carrier and I gave six months notice before I left. My departure had Malhoit's full blessing. The rest of my co-workers took to calling me crazy. "The weirdo ain't just weird, he's stupid," was the party line. I just smiled. There are only so many times you can drive over the same roads and open the same mailboxes and put the same bills and magazines into those mailboxes. Thirty-five years of that and you will go crazy.
"Stable, reliable employment
with decent pay and benefits.
Where else you gonna find that?"
That was a moot point. Stability wasn't my main interest. If it had been I wouldn't have killed myself three years earlier. It was time to move on and time to begin a new life. It would have been easier to stay the course and continue the way I had been. I was living in a rented house with a roommate who was a Deadhead. When we weren't sitting at home going through an ounce of weed a week and a case of beer a day he was dragging me to Phish shows or we were dropping acid in the movie theatre. Moss grows on the unturned stone and the creek was getting much too boggy. It was time to move on. The roots were getting deeper and they were growing weaker with time. It was time to listen to the signs and do something different. Being comfortably burned out is no way to stagnate. Then again, there is no good way to stagnate.
There are always obstacles to change and there is last minute redemption. The test of a person is whether or not they can filter the possibilities and arrive at a decision that builds a bridge into the future. There was a siren song calling and the pieces were there, but it was hard to abandon everything that had made up a life for nearly thirty years. The decision to move was made and I packed up what I could not sell or discard. Everything was in high gear.
Then she walks in.
With all the gin joints in all the world... she has to walk into my farewell party. There is nothing quite like saying hello to one person when everyone else is saying good-bye. I had never met her before but the fact that her nickname was "Toad" left me assuming she was some kind of vision of ugliness. I never considered she might be the kind of Toad you got high from kissing. This was not in the program. She flew in under the radar.
You can do whatever you want to, and I could have stayed. You don't experience love at first sight every day and that was the only time it happened to me. That had to be worth something and yet to abandon everything in the plan for her would have put undue pressure on her. It could never have worked. Had things gone wrong for me she would have blamed herself. We had four weeks. We made the best of them. Sunsets on the beach. Long rides through the mountains. Making love every night with desperate passion. Could what was so magical in the short term have worked in the long term? No one can say for sure. There was no way to change course without wrecking the plane.
"You can do anything."
Dave Malhoit reminded me of that almost every day. They accused him of being heartless, cruel and self-centered and yet he had bought a house and settled down in the last years of his life. Why? Because the woman he loved was confined to a wheelchair and she needed the stability. He claimed his dog meant more to him than she did. He told us he did it so his dog would have a yard to play in. A man with a good heart doesn't have to let it bleed in public, but if you read between the lines you'll see it bleed anyway. No one is as cold as they seem to be. We all have a certain act we do to hide our perceived frailties. Aside from those we trust we worry too much that others will take advantage of our soft spots.
So different they are the same.
One departure here is an arrival somewhere else. You can be held back by what you see as responsibilities and commitments. You can close the book. You can fill in the blanks and finish what you started. You can drag it out forever and procrastinate your way into stagnation. You can do anything you need to do and most of what you want. The chief obstacle is always yourself. You aren't doing anyone any good being miserable, regardless of circumstances. You don't have to flee. You just have to find the right path. The path may take you away from where you are or the path may take you back inside, where you may truly belong. Unless you travel, unless you take the chance, you will never know.
You can fail before you begin
By not even trying.
You can believe in yourself
And believe you can do it.
You can throw caution to the wind
And let your wings take you where they may.