(*Sally, I think this one is okay for you to read. You may want to skip a few paragraphs…actually, let’s not risk it. I don’t want to take the chance. *)
I will never be able to truly express the gratitude I have for my friend in Nashville. At least not while I have the daunting task of packing all of my stuff and moving to Florida staring me right in the face. I can’t really say this has snuck up on me since I have known I’m moving for many months, but in a few hours, I will be loading up my exceptionally overpriced U-Haul, pulling away from my literal prison of a house, and heading down to live a very different life from the one I am currently moving through.
Anyone who knows me knows I am afflicted with an almost debilitating case of Peter Pan syndrome. I have lived my adult life refusing to grow up, which is funny because when I was a kid, all I wanted was to be a grown up. Now I just want to hang on to my youth. I lived in Virginia, on and off, for 24 years and never once will I take for granted the friendships I cultivated there, but during my three and a half years in Nashville, I have found friendships I never knew could exist.This is a strange phenomenon because as I have gotten older I have gotten smarter, stronger, more talented, better looking, politer, basically better in every single attribute of my life. For these improvements, with the exception of the better looking (I will give credit to these invincible genes my parents gave me. Seriously, with all the stuff I’ve done to this body, my parents had to mix together some darn good baby batter to make something this resilient), I offer my gratitude to my friends in Nashville.
When I arrived in Nashville (which was never supposed to happen, but that’s a story for another day), I was what many people may have considered broken. I was running. I was running from a life I was ashamed to be living. When my friends from back in the Virginia days see me now, they tell me that moving away was probably the best thing I could have done for myself. I have an aura of happiness around me now that was missing while I was in Virginia. It took me a while to find it, and now that I have it, I have the confidence and desire to succeed that I had lost years before when I was convinced that my teenage dreams were nothing more than hopes that could never be accomplished. I have learned—this just isn’t true.
Parents tell their kids all the time that anything is possible. They can grow up to be whatever they want to be. At least that’s what my parents told me…until I said I wanted to President (imagine how amazing that would have been). If you can believe it, they told me that would never happen. I really wanted to prove them wrong at the time, but like many interests and phases children go through, that one faded away, along with my desire to be an astronaut, or an Olympic swimmer. I have clearly always strived for greatness in my dreams—this is why mediocrity in my life causes me so much grief. The one dream I had that never disappeared was to do exactly what I do now—to write stories and entertain people with my words.
I’ve worked on writing for as long as I can remember. I started writing stories when I was 8 years old and have refused to stop. Whenever I’m having a shitty day, it is fun to get lost in a world of make believe that I can create in my own head. The characters I create seem to take on a life of their own. At times it feels as though they are telling the stories, and I am just listening to them recount their adventures to me. I can honestly say it is the only thing I have ever wanted in this world (next to a date with Jessica Alba, Anna Kournikova, Kelly Kapowski, or Winnie Cooper). Needless to say, writing is the only dream I’ve ever stuck with.
Upon arrival in Nashville, I began fixing myself, putting the pieces back together. This meant I had to find something I had forgotten about. I had to find self-worth. Somehow I was able to discover self-worth in a shitty relationship that emotionally drained me. This was only possible with the support of many of the friends I have today. As we got to know each other, they saw how miserable I was with my psychotic girlfriend, so they did what true friends do—on a fairly regular basis, they told me to end it. To get out. They told me I deserved better. They told me I could do better. They told me I was too good of a guy to put up with all the crap I was going through. They told me I was good.
Now anyone who knows me knows I like to brag about my narcissism and my sociopathic tendencies. This group of friends told me I wasn’t really any of those things. They showed me that I didn’t have to settle for a life that was ordinary. I didn’t have to live in a status quo of what I thought was the right thing to do with a mixture of what my parents wanted for my life. For the first time since I was young, I saw that I was given the opportunity to do whatever I wanted with my life. I could make my life extraordinary or I could make my life mediocre based on what I wanted, not what other people wanted.
It’s funny. I would never have met any of these friends if Shannon hadn’t misrepresented certain aspects of our relationship in the very beginning. When I ended up in Nashville, she said she would be finished with her school in six months. I had gotten a shit job working for a chain restaurant that I hated, but I knew I could put up with anything for six months. After I worked there for four months, Shannon revealed that it was going to take her longer than expected to finish (like a year longer), but after she was done we would be able to go anywhere in the country. I immediately quit my shit job and got a job at a different restaurant where I found my friends. As Shannon grew closer to graduating, she said she was applying for jobs, and I was excited because we could go anywhere in the country. That is we could go anywhere in the country if it was a suckhole little desert town in Washington state. I didn’t even know Washington had a desert! If she had been honest about how long she needed to graduate, I never would have gotten the job that introduced me to my friends. If we had left to less greener pastures, I never would have fallen into the group of Red Sox fans I consider some of the best friends I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. If she had been honest about job prospects…actually, no. Come to think of it I wouldn’t have followed her to anywhere after we lived together in Nashville. I was over that relationship shortly after it began.
Suddenly I was instilled with a new sense of self-confidence. I believed in myself for the first time in years. I didn’t feel like an absolute failure. I didn’t look in the mirror in the morning and question what it was I had done in this life or a previous one to deserve the crapfest of a life I was living. I looked at myself in the mirror each morning and knew the day had the possibility of being a great day. This wasn’t just due to my newly found self-assurance, this was also due to the fact my friends were some of the most positive thinking people I had ever been around.
Remember back to senior year of high school when all the students predicted what would happen to their classmates in the future? Nobody ever failed in these predictions. Everyone was going to become the CEO of a major company, or head editor of a major paper, or successful fashion designer, or some successful version of whatever his or her high school dream was. This is what it felt like to hang out with most of the people in this group. If one of them wanted to be a singer songwriter, he or she was not only going to do it but would also write many number one hits. If one of them wanted to be a sports anchor, he or she would soon be on ESPN co-anchoring SportsCenter. I want to be an author. All of these friends believe that I will one day write a number one best selling novel that will be regarded by future generations as a great piece of literary history. (I mean, I’m good, but I’m not that good…actually, strike that. Yes, I am. And I have a really great editor.)
The amazing effects of positive thinking can do wonders for the human psyche. Suddenly, thanks to the positive influence of my new friends, I was seeing things the way that they should be seen. It’s not about how bad your life is, or who screwed you over, or how long you can hang on to a grudge. It wasn’t my parents’ fault I was going through a miserable time in life before I got to Nashville. I was unhappy because I didn’t give myself the other option. Being sad, depressed, and despondent was the way I chose to deal with the world and my problems. The moral I learned: When there is shit in your toilet, flush it; if the toilet’s clogged, plunge it. There may be a little mess to clean up, but everything will be fine, no need to be bitter at the late night Taco Bell you ate after a night of heavy drinking that caused the epic back-up to occur.
Bowling for Soup (some of the more pretentious Nashvillians I know will turn their nose up at the fact I’m referencing Bowling for Soup, but, whatever, screw ‘em) has a song in which they say, “Now you hate your parents for the way you turned out, but in the end the blame’s on you.” I had heard this line a hundred plus times before I moved to Nashville, but I never understood the words until a group of restaurant workers, a group of Red Sox fans, and all of their mutual friends accepted me into their circles. My emotions and attitude have nothing to do with how my parents raised me. I choose to be the way that I am. I chose to be sad when I was sad, I chose to be depressed when I was depressed. When I was despondent, it was my decision. None of this had to do with my parents not caring, or not loving me enough, because the truth is, they loved me the perfect amount. They let me make my own decisions on who I want to be and how I want to respond to circumstances in my life. I thank them for that. I know they wanted to show me I had the option to be happy, and looking back on my life, I can see they tried many times to get that into my head. But as with many things in life, when your mom tells you that you are a great guy, you just blow it off as something mothers say. Sometimes you have to hear it from friends to really understand how special you truly are.
I honestly wish I could personally thank every friend I have in Nashville in this story, but I tried that in a previous draft and it was just way too damn long and I was a little terrified I would leave someone out and suddenly I would be less loved than I already am. So to anyone I know in Nashville, understand that you have played an exceptionally important role in my life, and I will never forget any of you. I honestly don’t think I will ever again have a group of friends as close to me as I am with all of you. Leaving you all will be incredibly hard on me. You opened my eyes to the potential I possess deep within me, and I will always be indebted to each and every one of you. (Only emotionally, of course. Don’t call asking me to fund your next band project or anything like that.)
As I am typing this, I am on my way back to Nashville at the end of three weeks on the road. I have realized one thing over the last three weeks, and it both made me sad and filled me with hope at the same time. After I officially move from Nashville, I’ll miss my friends, and even though I know I’ll never find the same intimacy with another group of friends, I know that once I’m in Florida I can take the time to make new friends and hopefully impart the knowledge that my Nashville friends and family have imparted on me over the last three years.
I know I said I can’t thank every person in Nashville, but there is one person I really must single out, and since I know I will never say this to him in person, I want him to know how much I appreciate his friendship.
So to him I say, “You are my best friend and little brother. Your friendship has been exceptionally influential on the last few years of my maturation and growth. You have more talent than anyone I’ve ever met (apart from me…and my sister), and I beg you not to waste it working in a restaurant. Don’t fall into complacency like I did. Get out there and make your dreams come true. Frank Turner sang, “Ditching teenage fantasies means ditching all your dreams.” Don’t give up on your dreams. Work toward your dreams with every ounce of sweat you have. Don’t ever grow up. I turned down the job because I decided I would rather work toward something I love than toward retirement. Make it work. It is possible to be the success you’ve always envisioned yourself to be. Don’t ever forget you have more potential than you even believe you possess. Remember what Christopher Robin said to Pooh (if you don’t know who they are, go open a book), ‘You are braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’ Don’t squander the talents you have on getting stoned and eating Little Caesar’s. I love you, little brother.”
Nashville, I love you, but the time has come for me to say goodbye. Officially. I hope one day our paths will cross again. You are the greatest city on Earth. (That’s right, New York, I said it. Do something). I will always remember you with great affection, and I promise my next book will take place within your city limits.
Thank you for the last three and a half years.