Two years ago today, I woke up at Rob Snyder’s house in Nashville with four other people in tow and a 26 foot U-Haul truck with a 12 foot trailer parked along the curb, having driven the entire previous day to get here from Philadelphia.
The trip got off to an ominous start when I managed to bottom out the trailer hitch on the truck by burrowing it into the asphalt at the bottom of a hill before I’d even gotten onto the interstate – and had to have a neighbor with a forklift actually raise the trailer off the hitch until I could get the truck turned onto the street – then actually drop the tongue of the trailer back onto the ball with the forklift. Which in and of itself was miraculous enough…but it’s easy to miss the Big Miracle in this scenario, which is: WHO THE HELL HAS A FORKLIFT IN THEIR SHED WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS?
There were already some stressors built into this exodus – I’d gotten a job offer before returning to Philadelphia from my initial trip to town, only to have it rescinded because I wasn’t available to start when they wanted me to. At that point, though, we were committed to our exit strategy, and there was no turning back. We’d given our notice, the lease had been signed for the Nashville house, and this was happening…job or no job.
So I arrived in Nashville on this day, two years ago, with my ex-wife, a five year old and twenty-two year old son, and Ramon – Dylan’s friend who came along for the ride. No concrete job offer, a limited amount of cash on hand, and a house full of folks to feed.
This time two years ago, we were unpacking the truck when Wendy got word of Robin Williams’ death by his own hand…and sure, I didn’t know him personally, and there was so much going on that there was no time to dwell on it…but it cast a shadow over the day, and quite a few of the days to come. There was news from home that I won’t discuss here that weighed much heavier than this, as well.
That night, my friend Andrea Zonn – fresh off the road from a summer tour with James Taylor – stopped over with her son, Leonard, as well as pizza and a modest grocery run. We actually managed to sit down and exhale for a moment and enjoy each others’ company amidst the stress of trying to unload a ridiculous amount of crap off the trucks that it seemed like we’d just finished loading a few hours before. (I’d hired some additional muscle off Craigslist, but they ended up bailing on me before the truck was half unloaded. Lazy bastards.)
The next day, after gallons of sweat and a personal mini-meltdown while unloading the last of the stuff off the truck, we finally emptied it out and drove it to the U-Haul yard on Wedgewood Avenue and began to deconstruct the piles of boxes into some semblance of order…
…it was a job that we never finished.
Wendy didn’t last out the year.
Simply put, it was too much. Too little to go around, too much responsibility on one person to underwrite the whole operation, too many places for too many people to be with too few wheels to get everyone there, too little support and too much blame and resentment, and too many things gone wrong over such a short period of time for anyone to sustain anything resembling a normal existence.
It should’ve been the best year of my life…with three children ranging in ages from 24 to 5, the likelihood of all of them living under the same roof is almost nonexistent, but I had all my kids in the house with me at the same time. But instead of making the most of that, it felt like everyone was up each others’ asses on a perpetual basis, and everyone did their best to hide from one another by whatever means available. In retrospect, I don’t think it had to feel that way, and I think the jury is still out on how much of the blame for that lies at my door – but I do know that I didn’t do nearly as much as I could have to try to counter it. So on that front alone, I blew an opportunity that I know I’ll never have again.
I could say that I slept through the whole thing and that wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration.
That Memorial Day weekend, Wendy and Danny left to return to Maine…and barely a week or so later, Jayda and John (who’d moved south not long after we arrived and took up residence in the front bedroom) moved into their own place just up Gallatin Road from where we were.
To catalog everything that went wrong during the first year here is probably impossible at this point, because I’ve probably forgotten more than I remember. But – as with so much in life, it becomes less important as it fades into the rear view mirror.
Ramon returned to Pennsylvania not long after everything blew up on Cardinal Avenue, and Dylan and I ended up moving into a new, smaller, cheaper place tucked away behind Shelby Park near the river. I had started a new job in February, and decided to accept an offer to move to second shift a few months later, and have been “the night guy” ever since. It’s crippled any musical aspirations I might’ve harbored in moving here, but – and maybe this is a subject for another conversation – that hasn’t really bothered me as much as it feels like it should.
In the meantime, I’ve lost myself in movies and adult beverages and long bike rides and walks on the greenway outside my office window and sleeping until whenever I damn well please. I’ve amassed a burdgeoning collection of vintage TV shows that I may never watch, but time will tell. I’ve been rooting through all the stuff that I’ve moved countless times but never read or listened to or watched or worn – and have been reducing my footprint in the interest of being able to pull up stakes and relocate at some point down the road, when the time comes.
Because of my work schedule, I’ve found it very easy to make excuses not to leave the house unless it’s for work, the gym, or basic necessities like the supermarket. The few times I have accepted invitations to shows or something similarly musical, I’ve tried to navigate the outskirts and avoid feeling like a total fraud for being there in the first place. I feel almost zero connection with the musical community here, and that’s one hundred percent my own doing. I haven’t been the least bit proactive in forming any relationships or playing around town, and – again, that should bother me more than it does, but it doesn’t seem to.
I’ve become content to make my Nashville World as small as possible, to simply exist here rather than to actually live here. Considering that most of my motivation to move here in the first place was to try to cut my overhead and maximize my earning potential, the notion of remaining musically active was a secondary concern to begin with…Nashville became a possibility more because there were friends here than because of some vague notion of playing guitar for some douchebag with a chain wallet, which never appealed to me in the first place.
Everything I’ve used as an excuse NOT to move to Nashville in musical circles for the past twenty-plus years is absolutely true. It was then, and it still is now. But I’m not bitter about any of that – my eyes were open coming into all this. I’ve made as much money in one trip to Philadelphia for gigs and sessions as I could make in a year of playing one-off gigs or shifts on Lower Broadway, and that never once came as a shock to me.
So the second year of The Nashville Experiment found me settling into a loose routine of living an almost exclusively solitary existence here – Dylan lives with me, but he works during the day while I work at night, and he spends most of his weekend time with his awesome girlfriend Carley…so our paths only really cross if it’s planned in advance. Jayda and John are moving into a new house with their pal “Stove” (Michael Stovall) at the end of this month, where we’ll all share a landlord. John’s mother fell ill some time ago, and he’s been back home for a while…and in the time since, Jayda and I have taken to weekly meetups to do laundry and run errands during the day. I hate that it’s happened under the circumstances that brought it on, but I’ll forever be thankful for the gift of time that it’s given the two of us.
There’s a new chapter beginning as Year Three kicks off.
Wendy and Danny returned to Nashville for Christmas last year, and we had a wonderful visit – full of promise for us as a family, but a subsequent visit on neutral territory (back in Philadelphia) in April wasn’t quite so full of promise, and found us returning to familiar territory that cast the final shadows on any notion of a future for us as a couple. We’ve been navigating the aftermath of that in the time since – the difficulty of which is compounded when the notion of having a conversation about anything heavier than how weird it is to see Cole Hamels in a Texas Rangers uniform is completely off the table.
Still, while the writing on the wall may have been in washable ink sixteen months ago, it’s dried into the paint at this point…and there’s no washing it away.
Mourning the loss of a relationship comes in waves – and I feel as though the largest of them washed over me a summer ago, but nurturing the notion of possibility has been something akin to emotional waterboarding, I think. Coming to terms with the finality of it, and negotiating the harrowing task of Parenting Via FaceTime isn’t going to come and go in one tide, I don’t believe.
Meeting someone new – someone who offers a wealth of promise – has been an interesting cocktail of emotions, in that there’s excitement and infatuation and a fresh breath of optimism washing over me in waves that alternate with rushes of regret and guilt, mostly swirling around accepting the finality of the fact that there isn’t going to come a day when Danny and I will sleep under the same roof again. I’m not sure that I ever fully believed that to be a possibility in the time since watching them pull out of the driveway of that cursed house we shared, but there’s still a significant difference in thinking of something as vaguely possible and accepting that it really isn’t…and maybe never was.
So I find myself on a bit of an emotional seesaw, in that respect – being swallowed up just by looking into the eyes of this woman I’m welcoming into my life now, and tripping over little reminders of what I’ve said goodbye to at various points on my path.
I’ve walked this path before – but I stayed as close by Jayda and Dylan as I could, in order to continue to see them, to be as much a part of their lives as they’d allow. We had two nights a week and every other weekend, we had “mallwork” (where we’d go to the food court at the mall and do our homework over pizza or burgers or whatever), we had road trips to nowhere in particular, we had fun and we had rough patches, but we had relationships.
Danny and I have…FaceTime.
I’m going to have to wrap my head around that gradually, because I don’t really know how I’m going to navigate this moving forward…but I’ll figure it out.
The sun is going down on the Cumberland river, right outside my office window…the building has mostly emptied out, and the typical quiet has settled in.
Tomorrow will be Day One of Year Three – full of promise, with a taste of nostalgia sprinkled here and there…and while regret or guilt isn’t on the list of ingredients, every once in a while I’ll be able to taste it in there somewhere.
Will there be a Year Four?
I feel completely ill-equipped to think that far ahead right now…but that notion doesn’t repulse me the way it might have this time last year.