Chapter 11:We’re All In This Together; Or Are We?

     Good evening everyone, or whenever you read this chapter. As you can tell by the title, I’m going to dig into the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve thought long and hard about this chapter. I have written the last two chapters based on my own emotions, but as a people observer; this chapter will focus on that. Governor Beshear has been a steady target in the last two months; whether it is a good target or one that is negative, our Governor has been in the spotlight. This is NOT, I repeat NOT a political piece, so bear with me. His line “We’ll Get Through This Together,” has been repeated over and over ad nauseum. Are we though? Are we really in this together? Whether it is your beliefs, viewpoints, socio-economic standing, etc…Are we really in this together? People attacking others for their beliefs, viewpoints, emotional and/or physical state; are we really in this together?

I mentioned earlier that I am a people observer, and I am. Now whether or not it is proper for me to pass judgement on those I watch is well, just that proper, that’s for another post. However, what I have observed in the last two months is a spike in people attacking each other for their beliefs. First off, I will not and cannot say that I haven’t been in heated discussions with people over the last two months about what I believe or do not believe is true about this entire situation; I’m not a hypocrite. I mean, how can anyone know everything? Washington was built on scandal, deceit, and money signs. I digress. I do not care what political party you’re a part of, or who you voted for; I firmly believe that the most educated opinion formed, is bits and pieces from both sides of the fence. You can’t build a steady house using one material, let alone a firm foundation. However, there are those out there that believe that only their opinion is correct; therefore those who oppose it must burn in Hell. Thought I’d use that exact terminology, since I saw that used on a social media post earlier. But wait, I thought we were supposed to come together during this pandemic? And this is from someone who I thought had a little more sense than that. We have become even more of a divided society based on this pandemic. Now, whether or not this disease came from a lab in China is irrelevant, but if it did, I guarantee the Chinese are getting the result they wanted. Our economy has plummeted, our society is tearing each other apart, and there is more turmoil in government than we have seen in quite some time. I’m not just talking about The President, Senate, House of Representatives either; I’m talking all the way down to local governments. That aforementioned foundation I mentioned, well it has a crack in it.

This country is a Democratic Republic base of government. A republic based on the process of Democracy in decision making. However, governors of states want neighbors to snitch on those they see breaking shelter or quarantine laws. Wait, is this Communism? Socialism? What in the blue Hell are we doing here? Some I suppose are better than others in this activity, probably because they can’t stay out of other’s business; but hey, why worry about yourself? Why do we feel the need to be tattle-tails at the age of 30, 40, or 50 years old? Why? What’s the point? I certainly don’t agree with the premise of turning someone else in. If they aren’t bothering me, then I figure it will karma that takes care of them; if it’s in the cards. More division, see my point? We indeed are NOT all in this together. Matter of fact, we never were. From the get-go, it was a cross between Hunger Games, Jumanji, and Hungry, Hungry Hippos. We were supposed to be created equal by God, himself, but it is this very country and those who control it; who eradicated that idea. We all make and have different amounts of money. We all have different levels of education, and boy, does that show. We all live in different houses, drive different cars, have different social standards, etc… I could go on forever. See my point? If we are all in this together, we need to do a better job.

 

     Let’s put a big, pretty, pink bow on things here; in honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday. I have watched those who preach togetherness and solidarity tear down another person because of their beliefs or opinions. Why? This IS America, correct? Or at least I thought it was still the USA, and we had Freedom to do so. I have my own personal beliefs, and if I need to vent, I do so on the phone or to those in my immediate household. There’s absolutely NO reason to bash people on social media or any other public forum, and if you choose to do so anyway; using Religion to bash someone’s beliefs may not be the best weapon. Ya know like, “Do unto others, as you would want to be done to you.” That ring a bell? Now, society was divided long before COVID-19, and sadly, will be divided long after it’s gone; but if we are indeed in this together, let’s start acting like it. Pick up the phone and call a friend to check on them. We have a group of umpires that do this regularly. Be nice, send someone a message to check on their mental well-being. See if a friend or family member needs anything that you can pick up for them. Just simple stuff. Also, can we stop having this belief that if someone’s opinion is different than yours, you HAVE to hate them? I mean, where does that come from? I’ve always had the belief that you can really judge what someone is made of in times of crisis or stress. If that indeed is the case, then some people, well I have lost respect for. We should come together during this time, not push others away…In the meantime, I “guess” we’re in this together…Until next time, Ma-halo…

Chapter 10: What To Do, When You Can’t

     Good evening, night, or morning; depending on when you read this I suppose. So it’s 2:30 a.m. as I write this chapter, but I’ve had this topic on my mind for quite a while now. A little background info before I get into this chapter, as most of you know I am a cancer survivor. After my bout with testicular cancer and the spread into my abdominal region, which consisted of two major surgeries and a rigorous three months of chemotherapy; I had no freaking idea of who I was following all of that. While the comparison is a little weird, bear with me on this, I feel that way now. Let’s get started. Hope you enjoy.

March through November is my time of year. My high school softball season runs from March into May, and my travel ball season runs into November; Thanksgiving is usually the end. Obviously, the state of society and the coronavirus has halted it all; including wiping out college and high school softball. Great hope is still present for travel ball, as states begin to loosen up restrictions. Here’s my conundrum, who in the blue Hell am I? I have absolutely no structure in my life, my passion and love is a fading memory, and my identity lost. I know some of you are thinking that I am crazy, and while I may be; being an umpire/official is my identity. My days are filled with trying to stay in softball shape and wondering where I would’ve been on any given night. My nights are now filled with reality television, video games, and fleeting thoughts of years past. I don’t think I have ever taken what I do for granted, but I’ll never let that thought slide into my mind EVER again. I miss being Hollywood, and while I’m fully aware that there are people who have it worse than I do; I’m focusing on me, because that’s what we all do. How does it affect me? I feel like I have to reinvent who I am. I’m lost without the optic yellow ball, the dirt, the grass, the heat, and yes; even the parents. I was lucky to get thirty-three games in before everything was slammed shut, but it only leaves the appetite wanting and needing more. Sure, the money is wonderful, but it’s about the kids, the game, and the structure. I kind of feel like the baby bird who has fallen out of the nest. This. Is. The. Worst! 

So back to my initial question: Who am I? I’ve had mood swings like a roller coaster. My appetite has diminished. I prefer my alone time, over watching television. Trust me, you can only watch so much television. My identity has been temporarily stolen from me, and what makes it worse is there is no set date as to when it’ll be returned. I compare it to a teacher who misses their kids. Kids who miss their Mamaw or Papaw. I knew every Saturday morning at 7 a.m. that I was going to be joking and enjoying the company of my extended family, now it seems that 7 a.m. is my bedtime; again no structure. Same really with sports in general. I knew at 7 p.m. this time of year that I was at a high school, or settling in to watch the Cardinals or Blues. I miss everything about life. Absolutely no one should have to endure what we have. Don’t give me the lecture about past pandemics, we aren’t talking about what people endured then. I almost feels like depression is finally setting in. You can only put the smiley face on for so long, before the fakeness just doesn’t come anymore. Teachers have to feel this way too. For roughly nine months out of the year, their classes are that extended family. I’m sure they ask themselves, “who am I?” “what do I do with myself?” 

When I emerged from cancer and was officially into remission, I had to reinvent who I was. I went from thinking I was invincible to almost dying. Now this isn’t as crucial, but the reinvention part is still present. Who am I? What do I do with myself? Can I create structure? How do I move past this when it’s time? When I figure out the answers to those questions, I’ll certainly share the answers…

Chapter 9: Struggling to Stay Sane

     I really debated on whether to write this post, but I have been thinking about this for the last two days; and certainly have been struggling with this over the past couple of weeks. Before I get into this post, let me preface this by saying that I have mad respect for those on the front line of this stupid ass virus. I also know that people are dying from this virus, and that it’s a tragedy; so save your “holier than thou” comments. Being upset, frustrated, angry, depressed, overall done with this situation is NOT mutually exclusive from understanding the threat…so save that bullshit as well. The other point I’ll make before I get into this post is simply this; if you are easily offended by my thoughts or the language I may use, well quit reading now. Oh, and no I don’t want your damn pity or for a damn person to feel sorry for me; but I am gonna vent. The point is to vent, but also to remind you that those who you think are okay, well they aren’t. If you want to call me selfish, that’s quite alright; but if you haven’t sat and thought how miserable you are and how this has negatively affected you, well you’re either delusional or a damn liar.

For the last four months I had my sights set on one thing, and one thing only; rehabbing for softball season. The partial knee replacement I had in November was absolute hell, and I still deal with the restless leg syndrome from said surgery. I was supposed to have help dealing with that well yesterday, but due to COVID-19 that appointment has been moved to June. Frustration number one, the physical side of this pandemic. Apparently to see a pain management doctor requires a complete physical assessment…What part of my ORTHOPEDIC SURGEON referred me to you do you not freaking understand??? Look at a medical record you f’n moron! Anyway, I fought with unbelievable pain for a good eight weeks battling back to be ready for March 16th, only to have it taken away from me. Along with our USSSA season that has been suspended. High school season is gone. Absolutely no control. Just POOF, gone! Makes me sound selfish, doesn’t it? Good. I am being a bit selfish here, but not just for me. I’m being selfish for the high school seniors who had the best part of their senior year in high school ripped away from them. The athlete who had the chance to win a state championship. Yes, I have a couple in mind. My heart breaks for them. See for me, it’s a passion, it’s a love, and yes; the money is fantastic. I ask you honestly, have you ever loved something THAT much? I digress. When you put that much effort, time, and pain into making sure that you are 100% or at least as close as you can be to that to give these girls everything you have on a nightly basis; having it ripped away is a devastating feeling.

That brings on the mental frustration and depression. See, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder anyway; so when you battle and rehab damn near every day for two months straight, for what feels like no damn reason: it’s a defeating feeling. I even lost ten pounds post-op, which I’m pretty sure I have gained back. Sports and music are my escape, my relief from life, my coping mechanism; that’s why I get so wrapped up in them. When I can’t seem to battle my demons; that’s where I go. Sports are gone. All of them, gone. Video games only help so much. I mean, I’m scoring the baseball games I play; folks that’s bad. Passion. That’s what I have for sports, music, etc…No escape. None. I’ll be completely honest and transparent here. I’ve thought numerous times in the last week how easy it would be to just put my car into a ditch or wrap it around a tree, again selfish, so save your bullshit preaching because I’ll tell you where you can stick it. It really is amazing after everything I have been through in my life, this would be the one thing that broke me. I’d argue my saving grace is spending time in the living room watching shows with Laura and Mom, but even that is running its course. I try so hard to just put on a smile and enjoy my time, but it’s hard. I’m getting worse and worse, and sadly there’s no end in sight to this feeling. I can’t sleep at night, whether it’s the knee, my brain, or just depression. When I finally get to sleep it’s 5 or 6 a.m. so I sleep late into the day. There is no schedule, no normalcy to life. I’ve always been a nightowl, but that was by choice. Hell, it’s 4:18 a.m. now, you figure it out.

Financially this has been terrible as well. I umpire and officiate because I love the game. I love the girls and the boys, watching them succeed, and having a positive influence on their lives is what I live to officiate for…THEM. The money is the bonus. It’s the incentive to go out every day and give 110%: even if you don’t feel like it on any given day. Usually it’s Mother Nature I complain about, but this…this…a pandemic that spreads like wildfire, because people don’t know how to keep their dumbasses inside and not continue to go out and spread it; and I’m the one being selfish…fuck that. Perhaps we could spare some of these events and seasons, but people don’t listen because it doesn’t fit their agendas. I’ll tell ya what, you’d be pissed off, if you were out of close to $2300 too. People bitching about their jobs or having to go to work, be thankful you’re considered “essential.” Those of you who get to work currently, be happy about it. I’ve applied at numerous places, waiting for Wal-Mart to figure their stuff out, and I’ll be essential as well. You know where your next paycheck is coming from…Not as bad, huh? I’m thankful that we have a Governor here that looks out for us independent contractors. 

I’ll put a bow on this by saying, I AM SICK AND TIRED OF SOCIETY! First of all, I don’t give a rat’s ass if you are Democratic, Republican, Independent, African-American, Caucasian, etc…Can we please FACT CHECK what we put on Facebook. I’m absolutely fucking tired of people posting stories, memes, or propaganda that fits your agenda. I couldn’t care if you are anti-Trump, anti-Democratic, Pro-Life, or Pro-Choice; enough already you sanctimonious ass clowns, enough. Trust me, you look even more ignorant when your information is incorrect or has a bias tilt to it. This country doesn’t try to break news anymore, we sprain it; and it’s a joke. I realize that what I’m saying isn’t going to change a damn thing, but it should. Follow the damn suggestions of politicians, or we’ll be asked to stay inside for a longer. No, it doesn’t violate ANY amendment. Congress isn’t passing a law you idiots; it’s for public safety. As you can see, I’ve lost all compassion and feeling. Being cynical sucks, but right now, so does this country. Everybody wants the fairy tale ending, and those who are doing good deeds for those who shouldn’t be out right now is wonderful. That’s not my target. You think that this country will be better after this pandemic? Try again. There is a ton of pent up resentment towards those who refuse to comply with these shelter in place that have been issued. Know how I know? Because I have plenty pent up. You can think whatever you want of my piece here, or my thoughts, or how I feel…but ultimately, I don’t care. 

Chapter 8: Cancer Sucks!

I briefly discussed my battle with testicular cancer in the first chapter, but I felt it (yes, the cancer, deserved an in depth look). Hey, I don’t/didn’t like the disease, but I respect it. I started thinking about writing this chapter after all of the Hockey Fights Cancer ceremonies going on around the NHL. Of course, it is an initiative that is done every year, but when it hits close to home; you begin to reflect a bit more. Who do I fight for? Well I fight for Laura’s mom, her dad, Tom, and myself. Unfortunately, two of those four succumbed to the battle. Talk about “survivor’s remorse,” yeah it’s a real thing trust me. It’s one of the reasons I refuse to celebrate my remission date anymore. For me personally, it feels like a slap in the face of those who didn’t win the fight. More on that later. I even found an old scrapbook page my mom put together during my battle with the disease. There are some wild pictures on that page, and yes, I’ll share it later in the piece. Just be prepared now. Okay. let’s get started. First and foremost, I’m stubborn….

Let’s go all the way back to April of 2004. Just breezing along in school, playing ball, umpiring, and loving life. I felt invincible, (note to self, that’s when something bad happens…ALWAYS). I first noticed a very uncomfortable pain, well, down there…right side, very sensitive, and yeah. I brushed it off, as a strain or something. I was an athlete and umpiring, bumps and bruises are a part of it all. Go see a doctor? Nope. This was near the end of April 2004, so I was in the middle of both seasons; do you really think I was going to take time out of that to see a doctor? C’mon now, I still rarely go see a doctor unless I absolutely need to. May came and went and so did June. Pain still there, and still uncomfortable. Yeah, two whole months, and still no doctor’s visit. You’d think I’d learn my lesson about going to the doctor’s now, right? See the stubborn comment above. So July came, and so did some ungodly swelling…like the size of a walnut, and it wasn’t done to improve optics (sorry, had to crack the joke). Finally decided it was time to see a family doctor. Have you ever gone to the doctor, yet you already know what’s wrong? This was one of those cases. I knew what it was. Went to see Dr. Purvis, in Glasgow, Kentucky. Remember from chapter one, I was there over the summer. An ultrasound later, I was on my way to see Dr. Bigler in Bowling Green. A urologist. Little did I know that was just the beginning of my journey…

Bowling Green, Kentucky. August 5, 2004. I will never, I repeat NEVER forget that day. It was a sunny, humid, Summer day. Myself and Cherie, my fiancee and now ex-wife, were on our way to the medical center in Bowling Green. After meeting with Dr. Bigler, and going over all of the test results, we scheduled surgery for five days later. The next day I was scheduled to do my pre-op bloodwork and x-rays. I showed up. Ten minutes later, I walked out. I was uneasy. I knew I was going to die. Going through with the pre-op, in my mind, meant that I had succumbed to the idea of dying. I went to pre-op alone. There was absolutely NO way that as a twenty-three year old that I was cool with that. Remember in the previous chapters that I have brushed over this, I felt I was on top of the mountain and invincible; so yeah, I left. Matter of fact, I went to a bar and drank. Like seriously, get inside the mind of a twenty-three year old, and imagine what I was feeling. Here’s the overarching point (and probably something I should have noticed), I was alone. Again, I previously mentioned in Chapter 1, Cherie never stayed in the hospital with me; well she didn’t go with me to my pre-op stuff either. 

Long story, short, I had surgery on August 10th, 2004, in Bowling Green. Post-op testing two weeks later showed that the cancer had spread to my abdominal lymph nodes. Twenty three years old, and I was on a pretty quick path to death. Crazy, huh? So by Labor Day, I was living with my mother and Cherie had come with me. It might have been less stressful without her. Mom cooked, Matthew was the one with the wet washcloths on my forehead while I vomited violently. Chemotherapy started on Labor Day of 2004. Three months of that toxic garbage, only to find out right before Thanksgiving that the tumor had grown! (Wait, huh?) I had a tumor resting in the right side of my belly the size of a seven pound baby. No exaggeration either. Anyway, fast forward to December 14, 2004. I was at IUPUI being worked on by Lance Armstrong’s doctors. A six hour procedure to decide my fate, yeah that’s ideal. Anyway, obviously it was a success. I went into remission on January 21, 2005. I jumped quite a bit ahead in this chapter, but there were a lot of unnecessary details. Cherie left me right after the new year in 2005. Again, probably less stressful to leave her behind.

I wasn’t intending to make this chapter so much about me. Cancer stinks. We all know that, and for some reason it is a necessary evil in our world. I’ve had many people close to me die from the nasty disease. I’ve also watched miracles happen, and people survive the terrible fate of cancer. The real point of this chapter was to show that no matter how bad it looks, there’s always that inkling of hope that can pull you through. I had a twenty percent chance of living. I felt numerous times that it was lights out. Sadly, that’s the case many times. The idea being, hold those close to you; closer. Just shows you how fragile life really can be…Stay tuned there’s more to come.

 

Chapter 7: A SAD Time of Year…

I hate the holidays!” A phrase that we’ve all heard people mutter, and probably have ourselves, right? Well I REALLY hate the holidays, but then again I hate the time of year in general. I feel in previous posts I have really opened up to my readers (probably too much at times), but it’s my life. Am I ashamed of it? Some parts, but it’s made me who I am; good and bad. As I mentioned at the end of Chapter 2, I was diagnosed with S.A.D. at the end of 2010. Seasonal Affective Disorder, and from roughly the end of September to the beginning of March; it runs (ruins) my life. Before I was diagnosed with this mean disorder, we all chalked it up to being the end of baseball season and therefore the cause of my depression; that wasn’t and isn’t the case. So as I have been in previous chapters, I’m going to open up; and this may be me at my most vulnerable.

This disorder causes problems. A lot of them. I very rarely sleep, even though between my knees and shoulder, it exacerbates the problem. I am extremely moody. I can go from being happy, to sad, to angry, to depressed, and back to happy in 2.9 seconds. I’m difficult to deal with, and I know that, but I can’t fix it. I’ve been on Prozac, Cymbalta, and anything else you can think of; and it makes it terribly worse. I cry. A lot. Now no one ever sees it, because I’ll never show my weaknesses…because it’s just that, weak. I can feel extremely lonely in a room or a house full of people. I withdraw myself from people. That’s the real tough one, especially in relationships. I love you, but I’m going to go away for a while. Makes it extremely difficult to deal with and/or understand me. I can’t turn my brain off, EVER. Talk about getting easily annoyed with yourself…That happens too. And know what makes it worse? Those who think that you’re faking it, or it doesn’t exist. Let me tell you what, switch days/nights with me; and you tell me if it exists!?!? 

It’s the same thing everyday. Hard to go to sleep, hard to stay awake. The motivation to even get out of bed on a daily basis, is non-existent. It is the idea of why try? It’s the same day as yesterday. You’ll be upset, you’ll cry, you’ll get mad at yourself because you cried, and you’ll eventually fall asleep again. Everyone knows me as “Hollywood,” the pretty boy umpire, who can’t leave the house unless he’s looking 110%. This time of year, screw it. For example, today went to lunch at a wing place here in town with Laura and her mom…Jeans, Hoodie, Hat…Didn’t shave. didn’t fix my hair, and didn’t care. It’s hard. These days are draining. No, I don’t want to leave the house. My room is my safe haven, no one else can bother or hurt me here; and I can’t do that to anyone either. I feel like a burden. Like a dead weight to everyone else. Useless, worthless, and many times like everyone else’s life would be better if I didn’t exist. Guys, this is a daily struggle. I deal with it EVERY SINGLE DAY for about 4-5 months. Some days are better than others. Some days I smile a little more and laugh a lot, but I always seem to crash. 

There’s an Elton John song that reminds me of this struggle, “This Train Doesn’t Stop.” It talks about someone who is always strong, but behind close doors, is a mess. I have gotten real good at masking what I deal with. You never know how others you are around may use it against you, and sadly, I’ve dealt with that as well. I also know how difficult it is to deal with me, and the battle to read what mood I’m in at any certain time. I know how it is for myself, I’d imagine it’s not peachy for others either. 

So to wrap this up, I’ll take the time to apologize. I mean, what else can I really do. It’s who I am. I’m not proud of it by any means, but I’m an onion; I’m very complex. There is just one thing I absolutely know for sure…I hate the holidays!

A Time Long, Long Ago…

Many times when I sit down to write these chapters, I can pound them out in succession; one after another. This one was a bit different. I know it has been roughly two months in between chapter, but that was mainly because of softball tournaments and other events. This chapter has been on my mind for about three weeks, however. I kept asking myself how in depth I wanted to delve. Now personally, I’ve told you everything. Been an open book about me. In this case, it was about how far in depth I wanted to go about the other people in this part of my life. None of this is particularly easy, nor is it simple; but what the hell…Here we go.

I was born on October 24, 1980, in Union City, Tennessee, at Obion County General Hospital…at 1:51 p.m. James Calvin Lynn Newcomb. That’s right. Those of you who know me are thinking, “What the Hell,” right now. Aren’t you? I didn’t become a Knox, or lose my second middle name until I was six, (yeah, that’s covered here). My mom, Claudia Jean Newcomb and my biological father, sperm donor, resident asshole, Barney Lynn Newcomb. He didn’t become an asshole until later, (yeah, that’s covered as well). 409 Beck Street was my first home. I’ve seen this place, later in life of course, I sure hope it was in better shape when I was a bouncing 7 lb. 15 oz. baby boy. As I mentioned in the piece about my loving great grandmother, my first memory was at three years old; and it was of her (says a lot doesn’t it?). By the time I got to the age of three, my mom and Barney were no longer together, she was with my sister’s father, Jeff. Barney had me on the weekends, and whenever my mom wanted to get high with Jeff and his brother Tim. I’m not kidding, nor am I exaggerating. I remember the sun lamps and marijuana plants in the basement of our two story house at 606 S. Fourth Street in Union City. That would be my last home before we moved to Granite City in 1993. 

Now those of you who know me know that I’m a very cerebral person, for better or worse. As a three/four year old, I began that. If you’ve tuned in to watch “Young Sheldon,” I was very much like that; even looked like that a bit as a youngster. I even got grounded once for correcting my Uncle Tim because he said potatoes came from Ohio. NO MORON, they come from Idaho. Who gets that confused? Sorry I digress. Anyway, I remember asking Barney why he and my mom split, and the easy answer was me. That’s the answer I received as well. At this point, my mom was pregnant with my sister. See that’s the real reason they split, her and Jeff were having relations while my mom and Barney were still married. (See Chapter 1, told you my mom was…well…you know. Promiscuous. I’ll be nice). I still have this one glaring memory of getting ready to go to Barney’s for the weekend, and me coming down the stairs from my room; and Jeff answering the door when Barney knocked. My mom ran to the door, and I got in trouble for not being quicker down the stairs. This was a regular occurrence. My mom was always bitching at me. As I got older, I remember her telling me that it was hard for her to look at me, because I reminded her of Barney. I was in my twenties when she told me that. Trust me it didn’t feel any better hearing that at an older age. 

      Thankfully, I had my great grandmother. I cannot emphasize enough how crucial and thankful I was to have her. Not only to teach me and love me, but she was my escape from a drug filled, abuse filled childhood. Abuse was a mainstay in my childhood, whether it be verbally, physically, and yes…sexually. That’s really hard to type, but I swear to God, if I EVER see the son of a bitch now; I’ll kill him. My Godfather, the pastor of our church; Ronald Talbert. Last I knew, he lived in Canada. I hope he burns in Hell. I debated on whether to include that, but it was part of my childhood. My mother used me as her personal punching bag, and I regularly was screamed at. That didn’t stop even as I got into my teens and twenties. She loved to rip into me. Now Barney never did any of that, and my great grandmother at times, had to keep me home from school because of bruises. She saved me in SO many ways. Without her, who knows, I may have ceased to exist. By the age of seven, I was in therapy. I loved Beth, she was my therapist. Mom would always act like she loved me so much when we were there, but I’d always get “Why’d you tell her that?!?!?” on the way home. When you are told you are the reason for a divorce at four/five years old…Well. 

      Now for the name change. July 7, 1987, Union City, Tennessee…Courtroom. I remember this very vividly. Hard to understand why your biological father would give up his rights to his son. I still shake my head. It hurt. It still stings. The day that Sarah, my sister, her father adopted me. So I went from James Calvin Lynn Newcomb, to James Calvin Knox. I just sat in that courtroom, cried, and stared at my “father.” I later found out that he gave me up to marry a woman in Tiptonville, Tennessee, who had four kids. It was for the better. He still lives in Union City, but is a convicted felon and has served prison time for drugs and firearms. Jeff, Sarah’s dad was no better; but I’ll get to that. with Barney, I felt the need to let him know when I was diagnosed with cancer, I got “Okay, what am I supposed to do?” I had also reached out to him three years prior to that, in 2000/2001, and he told me he wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. What can you do, right? So at this point, almost seven years old. I knew what was going on around me, but even as a cerebral kid; NO KID can compartmentalize that stuff. Hell, I still have a hard time understanding a lot of it. Life went on though. I was going into first grade. Mrs. Gillette was my first grade teacher. She was really awesome. 

Mom and Jeff still did their partying…Heavily. I remember Jeff being arrested over the aforementioned plants. That started his downward spiral. Mom got in trouble for stealing money from her best friend’s mom to buy food, because they were buying other drugs as well. I tried to stay at my grandma’s house as much as possible, but hate it or not; they were my parents. Jeff ended up in a halfway house in Jackson, Tennessee. One weekend we went to visit him, and we went to Burger King for dinner. He started tweaking at the table, and we had to call an ambulance to come and get him. Needless to say, you don’t forget that stuff. It was sad, scary, and reflecting on it now embarrassing. During this time, my mom started sleeping with my brother’s father, who also happened to be her mom’s husband. Folks, you can’t make this shit up. In the process, enter Kenny, who was an over the road truck driver. He was the most decent man my mom had been with until that point. He was also twenty years her senior…I’m not sure if it was more for money or sex, but whatever. Matthew was conceived out of it. Three children, three different fathers, and one woman. Maury Povich would be impressed. Kenny and mom were together off and on until just recently when Kenny passed, but there were many other men in that period. One of them was Ron. Ron was my favorite. I once told my therapist, that Ron was the love dad, and Kenny the money dad. Yeah, I figured it out at the age of nine/ten years old. While Kenny had bought mom a brand new Toyota 4-Runner, Ron was taking me to baseball and football practice. He would ride bikes with me, and walk/talk with me. He cared. My mom did not. You latch on to people like that. This continued on until we moved to St. Louis (Illinois side), until I was twelve. 

I touched on some of that in other pieces. I was forced to leave my friends, my grandma, all of it…because of my mom’s selfishness. Jeff ended up going to prison, because of drugs; where he died on his birthday (New Year’s Eve, 2005). My mom sure knew how to pick them. Ron, she pushed away. Kenny stuck around, because he loved her; and because she could brainwash a psychologist. That’s just how she was, and still is. For all of you who question what you read, don’t it’s all the truth. It’s crazy how fact is stranger than fiction, but this folks, was my life. It’s my deep, dark past. The positive…This apple fell far from the tree…Thankfully in another orchard. I appreciate you reading this, and there will be more to follow. God Bless.

Chapter 5: Father Figure, Mentor, and Friend…

In my last piece, I wrote about the woman that gave me the knowledge at a young age to start to grow and become the person I am today; my great-grandmother. With all of the negativity and downfall in my life, and there will be more unfortunately; I wanted to stay positive in this chapter. In this piece I’m going to affectionately write about the man that did the same, Tom DeJarnatt. Man, Tom was something else. He was a great man, loyal friend, and he would go out of his way to help you no matter the cost. I knew Tom on a whole different level. As the title says, a father figure, mentor, and my best friend for a long time. This piece is going to make you laugh, because I’m chuckling now and haven’t written anything yet!

Tom and I met in 2006 on…you guessed it, a baseball field. Tom and I had been assigned to work together during a BPA tournament. BPA (Baseball Players Association) for those who are not initiated (haha). It’s the baseball side of the softball association that I umpire. Tom and I had eight games that weekend. I only remember that weekend, because of a thunderstorm that sent us running for cover (go figure). That’s what brought us together. We umpired a lot together that summer, including a tournament in Hopkinsville. A tournament that about killed me. Our first game started at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, we finished Saturday at 12:15 a.m. Sunday, and was back on the diamond at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. I was beat, could barely stand, and in the championship game actually had to sit for an inning. Guys this was before I was conditioned to do what I do now. Tom was convinced I sat out so the cute moms would have to baby me. Not the case, but hey, it did work. Tom was ALWAYS ribbing me like that. We worked a little bit more together that Fall, but that was it for the season. Tom and I were friends. We traveled together, worked together, and became close friends. It wasn’t until 2007, that we were constant partners. We’d go to Bowling Green and work huge ASA softball tournaments together. We always traveled together, roomed together, and ate together. Our eating habits even mirrored each others. Sidebar: Even after Tom passed (and before), I would eat vanilla ice cream before bed. That was his thing. We were inseparable. Crazy considering in 2007, I was 27 and he was 62; but I’ve thought about this, I think he was the stabilizing force in my life. 2008 was more of the same, we called baseball/softball all year together, and became closer. 

     Tom had gone through breakups with me, issues at home, and other issues; and it never failed he’d always call to check on me or see how I was. For a couple of years, I got away from doing tournaments. In part due to non-reliable automobiles, or because I only felt like doing baseball. I didn’t really get heavy into softball until 2011, and Tom and I rarely spoke or saw each other. That all changed at the end of 2011. I became the UIC (Umpire In Chief), for Owensboro Catholic’s Little League. (Blessing and Curse). Tom was my go-to. Always reliable, a great umpire, but mostly great with the kids. Tom drove a school bus for DCPS, and worked in the district warehouse; of course he’d be great for kids (and as I found out, my morale). 

      Tom and I met at the beginning of 2012 to go over our tournament schedule for the year, and now league schedules. This began our Friday morning breakfast meetings. Every Friday at either Shoney’s or Cracker Barrel. It became Shoney’s all the time after a certain food case at Cracker Barrel…That was a rough Friday evening on the field. We’d do this every Friday. One morning at Cracker Barrel, we had this cute blonde waitress; and Tom was being Tom. I believe the quote was, “Have you met this stud right here?” “He has a girlfriend at the moment, but give him a month.” Now Tom knew I was dating Laura at the time, but Tom had this joke. He’d always ask about my dating life at the beginning of the season, and I’d ALWAYS be dating someone different…a streak that was in tact from 2006-2011. Hey Tom…I’ve had the same one for over six years…What NOW!!! Sorry, he’s looking down on me now laughing and shaking his head. Probably saying, “Well color me surprised!” So it really wasn’t a joke, it was truth…Hey, I’m a hot commodity! “Ow, have mercy!” I have absolutely no clue where that came from…Anyway, we had that kind of friendship. Another instance, we were down in Bowling Green doing a one day tournament, seven games in on day. We had a game off, and we’re sitting on a bench people watching. This gorgeous blonde walks by us, and she’s a ten. Her husband, maybe a solid five. I looked at Tom and said, “How in the Hell…?” He looked at me and said, “Maybe you are my son.” Again that was just how we were. He was my best friend, and maybe I made him feel young again; although he did a pretty good job of that himself. A friendship that started on the ball field, became like a father/son, teacher/student, best friend duo. I also became the UIC for the Daviess County Woodbat League that Summer; I don’t need to tell you who became my main sidekick. 

The 2012 season was definitely one to remember. It was also our last full season together. Of course being the assignor for the Catholic League, I put Tom and I together every night. Tom turned down better games, and more money just to work with me; and we worked liked a well oiled machine together. I never had to look to see where he’d be on the field, and it was the same way in life. He was always there, and always had my back. We got through the season together, and our last tournament in Bowling Green was together was an ASA 14u National. What a fun weekend! Again we roomed together, and on the Friday night, we went to dinner. This story is my FAVORITE! There was this little bar/grill in our hotel, so we wandered down there to check it out. This, after a full day on the field, that got cut short due to a thunderstorm. We were both pretty grateful. We get there, get carded, and we both looked at each other like…ummmm. Needless to say we weren’t there long. We ended up going to Rafferty’s in Bowling Green. I had a steak, and Tom had roast beef. I remember everything about this night. Hilarious! So our waitress Amanda, yes everything, had brought us our food; and Tom and I noticed this table with three people in the back corner. A fairly decent looking man, with two blonde bombshells (one on each side). I was trying to figure out the situation. I’m like, “Well maybe it’s a mom and daughter.” Tom kinda shrugged and nodded. At this point, I knew the wheels were spinning. I threw out a couple more ideas, and then Tom spoke and a moderate tone…”Maybe they’re going to have a threesome!” I lost it. I don’t believe I have EVER laughed as hard as I did…but man, Tom could do that to you. Out of nowhere, just make a comment and make you lose your mind. He did that to me numerous times over the years. He was witty. Now so am I, so you could imagine the kind of trouble we’d get into. Chaney’s Dairy in Bowling Green was another instance…Ice cream, pretty girl behind the counter, and me…I turned as red as the sign on the building that day. The next day at the tournament, we had a team that had offered us cupcakes for one of the player’s birthdays. We accepted, and before their next game, Tom had the idea of singing to her. I told you, great with the kiddos. I agreed, thought it’d be cool, so we did; but Tom never did the easy thing. He breaks out Ronnie Milsap’s version of  “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.” It’s a good thing I knew that version. The finale of that tournament was rained out, due to a monsoon coming through. We ate breakfast at Ryan’s. It’d be the last breakfast date we had, little did we know.

We made our way back to Owensboro and Henderson, respectively, and I prepared for the Wooden Bat season. Tom would again be my sidekick, or so I thought. We were to start the end of August, so as I usually did; I contacted my guys. Everyone responded, but Tom. I had noticed Tom had lost weight, but he had a high motor. At 65, that man ran circles around me…NUMEROUS times, and I never thought anything about it until, well, it was too late. I continued to try to get a hold of Tom, and no answer. This wasn’t like him at all, and I was beginning to get irritated at him and impatient. The first week of the season, I filled the schedule…without Tom. I finally got a call from him, as I was getting ready to head to the ball park. I’ll never forget these words. “James, we need to talk. I’m sorry I haven’t responded, but we need to talk. Can you talk now?” I said of course, always made time for him. “I’ve had some tests run, and I have a spot on my stomach…and it’s cancer.” My words were “God why?” “That’s terrible.” “What am I going to do now?” In true Tom fashion, he says “How do you think I feel?” and he laughed. We talked a little bit longer, and we discussed everything. I was mad he didn’t tell me initially, but as he said; he didn’t want to. That night, I found a replacement for myself, even though I was already driving to Owensboro. I went home, went to my room; and I cried…A LOT. The next few weeks were HELL…Absolute HELL! I finished the wooden bat season in honor of Tom. I started my semester at WKU, and tried to focus on school and work; all while keeping tabs on Tom.

As October turned to November, school continued, tabs on Tom continued, and I ate breakfast on Fridays by myself; always saving a spot for Tom. I knew that treatment had started well, but word had come down that the cancer had spread to his esophagus; and was inoperable. I knew what that meant. In true form, ballgame. November turned to December, and Tom was still fighting like Hell. Mid December came, and I knew I had to bring myself to go see him, so one day after class; I did. As his wife Kay opened the door, there I saw Tom. Not the same guy I knew or remembered. My best friend was dying, and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. We spent about an hour together. I couldn’t take it. I had to leave. I cried driving the entire way home. For Christmas, we went to Memphis. I had fun, but all I could think about was Tom; so when we came back, I went to visit him. December 26, 2013. The last time I would see Tom alive. It was a sad visit, but Tom gave me three things on that day that I have and will never forget. 1) A picture of him and I working our first tournament together, 2) An ASA flip coin from our first softball tournament, 3) and as I hugged him for the last time, he told me he loved me. Perhaps, I was like a son. Tom passed away on December 31, 2013 at 2:27 a.m. That day, as with my great-grandmother, a part of me died as well.

      I could only tell the really funny stories, because I could have written an entire book on mine and T.D.’s adventures. That was the nickname for him, he referred to me as “Scooter,” it was a play off of my nickname when I played ball. I can’t even begin to touch on the influence Tom had on my life, but I can tell you one thing; none of it was negative. Honestly, I don’t ever remember him being in a bad mood. He was always smiling. He mentored troubled juveniles, he loved his family, he was great to all of the kids/parents we crossed path with; and for me…Well…he got me into softball, and taught me a ton. I still wear pink for him at least once a year to this day. I told myself I’d pass on what he taught me; and I have…For me…He still lives on, and as long as I can control it…ALWAYS will. 

Chapter 4: The Woman Gave Me the Tools…

    Life is funny sometimes…it really is. For most girls, their influence is their mother; or another female family member. For most boys, they want to grow up to be just like their father. In my case, I received all of the tools to be successful in life from neither; mine came from my great grandmother. In the previous chapter, I have mentioned my grandma numerous times; there’s a reason for that. If not for her, I wouldn’t be who I am today; in a POSITIVE way. I’m convinced I inherited her intelligence, common sense, strong will, and spiritual side. Yes, there is a spiritual side to myself, I said spiritual NOT religious. There IS a difference. This chapter is dedicated to my grandma, without her, who knows what would have become of  me!

Blanche Jean Ivy, born February 22, 1911, in Long Beach, California. From what I remember her telling me, she was born to two middle class parents. They weren’t rich, but did well for themselves. I’ve tried doing a genealogy chart on her, but it’s hard to find. She never dwelled  much on her childhood. It was always about her professional achievements, and let me tell you they were on the wall in her house. This woman was AMAZING! She worked on the Apollo 13, yeah you read that right! She mingled with Norman Rockwell. She had a picture on the wall of herself and Norman. You’d thought they were movie stars. She absolutely ADORED Elvis Presley. Matter of fact, beside the huge painting of Jesus, which always looked like he was watching me (I’m sure he was), was a picture of “The King.” I suppose I could have named that “The Wall of Kings,” she was a God-fearing woman, and anytime the doors were open to the church; we were there. She was a Lutheran woman, and therefore I was a Lutheran child. She was active well into her 80s, and you’d never have guessed her age by looking at her Toyota Corolla (that was trimmed in PINK), and her spry walk to pick up “her boy” from school. That’s what she called me, “her boy.” She did more than just spoil me as a child, she instilled many good qualities…The story begins now.

As I’ve brushed upon in other pieces, my childhood wasn’t ideal (Perhaps I’ll go in depth in another piece), but I always looked forward to going to my grandma’s house. I can still picture exactly how that house used to look. A quiet two bedroom, brick house in South Fulton, Tennessee, 417 Honey Locust Drive, to be exact. Larry, the mailman lived across the street; and a Methodist pastor and his family were our neighbors. I really had a crush on his daughter Tiffany, and even joined her soccer team to spend more time with her…Silly boy I was. We had a big peach tree in the backyard, and spearmint plants on the side of the house. Sorry, I got caught up there for a second. Anyway, that was generally my home on the weekends, but after a while I was pretty much living with my grandma three or four days of the week. We had a really cool routine. Every morning I’d get up for school, take a shower, eat my oatmeal, and she’d drive me to school in Union City, which for her was a twelve mile drive; but she’d never complain. On the way to school every morning, it was Paul Harvey on the radio…Now for the rest of the story. After we’d listen to Paul Harvey, it was Portals of Prayer. These little books were awesome. Grandma would drive, and it would be up to me to read that day’s passage. Now I’m 7,8 years old trying to read these passages and make sense of them, but I did; and then after a day of school, we’d discuss it on the way home. She always made me think, and boy, do I appreciate that in my life today. She would also have me read the road signs, and explain to her what they meant. Every minute was a learning moment with her, again I had no idea how helpful that would be going forward.

On the way home from school, it was the same thing. What did I learn, how could I apply what I learned, and homework was always the first thing when we got home. Homework would be done promptly, but she’d always get me a snack and strawberry soda. Look, I absolutely loved strawberry soda…Then we’d go outside and play, and I mean WE. This is going to sound crazy, but it’s my grandma that taught me how to hit a curveball. I’m not kidding either, she threw a pretty good one; at least it was good enough for a 7 year old to corkscrew himself into the ground swinging at it. In my eyes, she could absolutely do no wrong. Dinner time, we’d always eat together, watch the news (WPSD 6 out of Paducah, even had a favorite meteorologist, Cal Sisto. Yep, into weather young). Of course, my grandma had her “shows” too. Many nights, it’d be “Murder She Wrote,” or “Falcon Crest.” Yeah, a LONG time ago. Then the news at 10, followed by Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. I never made it through Johnny, I’d always fall asleep. The the next morning, we’d do it all again. Of course Sunday morning’s it’d be Sunday school and church, and ALWAYS McDonald’s afterwards. Generally on Sunday afternoon’s it’d be back to my mom’s for the beginning of the week. 

My grandma was the one who got me into the piano. She had an old church organ in the living room, and occasionally I would mess around with it. Now when I’d mess around with it, it would sound like there were two cats being stepped on stuck inside; but nonetheless, I began to learn about reading music. That really paid off in high school. One stretch over the Summer, between going on walks, my sports, and vacation bible school; we actually read The Bible from Genesis to Revelations. Guys, if you didn’t realize it, that is one HUGE book (especially for a 9 year old). Our time together really dwindled between the ages of ten to twelve, when we moved to St. Louis. One, because mom didn’t like the fact that my grandma spoiled me and didn’t spoil my sister or my baby brother; but my sister’s dad spoiled them. I thought it was a good balance. Two, I think my mom was jealous of the relationship that my grandma and I had. In reality, she should have been, because her and I didn’t have that relationship. My mom didn’t really teach me anything, well she did, but unless I want to end up in trouble/jail; they’re useless in mainstream society. When we moved to St. Louis, we maybe visited a couple times; and it would be great, especially when she got to see “her boy.” That drove my mom nuts. I just chuckle about it now. One time when we drove down from St. Louis to visit, my grandma was in the hospital, and not doing very well. I was the only person she recognized. Sadly, that would be the last time I would see her before I got the call she had passed away. I hate myself to this very day for not being able to say goodbye. After everything she had done for me, gave to me, and taught me; and I never got to say goodbye to her. She had left the house and a hefty college fund to me in her will, but I never saw any of it; thanks to her daughter. Jealousy ran rampant, because she didn’t really acknowledge my two aunt’s children, Josh and Todd. When it came to it, I was the only one that mattered. I had thought about trying to proceed legally to get what I thought was mine, but it’s not important in the long run. I have the memories that her and I made. 

Ultimately, I did get to say goodbye. I delivered the eulogy at her funeral. The absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life; even to this day, and let me tell you what…I also shut the casket at her funeral, so I did say my goodbyes. I still visit her and talk to her all the time. The woman who always said she’d live to be 109 years old, made it 90; but she lived the fullest 90 years anyone could. I’m sure she’s made friends in Heaven, playing Rummy, and talking about “her boy,” because that’s just what she’d do. All I can do in life is continue to use what she taught me at such a young age, and apply and pass down what I can. She was an amazing woman, who always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. She was always telling me that I could President, a meteorologist, or a baseball player…She was always full of hope, and saw the best in everyone. I can only hope that I’ve made her proud, with the tools that she gave me…

Chapter 3: To Move Forward, Sometimes You Have to Look Back…

     Hello again…Hello! Someone famous once sang that line…As you can guess by the title, we’re going back in time a while. I wanted to focus on a certain period of time that I didn’t get to in the first piece; roughly 1999-2001. My senior year in high school until the time things really started to change, when I left Granite City (the first time). As I write this, I’m listening to Purple Rain by Prince. That’s significant, because you could call this the “Purple Rain” period of my life, or perhaps the “Barbie Girl” period of life; we’ll stick with the previous. Here we go, another journey…Thanks for tagging along!

My senior year of high school did not start the way I wanted it to, nor the way any other 17-18 year old’s year should have started. During the Summer of ’98, I ended up in Union City, Tennessee, remember from the first piece my family had moved back to that dreadful place. I ended up back there with them, mainly for two reasons; the first being they were struggling financially and I could help, two, things with the living situation in Granite City just weren’t working. Seems like a lot for an 18 year old, huh? It was. Overwhelming to a point that emotionally I was becoming a wreck. Erratic seems to be a good word to explain it. Initially, I was relieved to be home; it didn’t long. Geez, imagine that…couldn’t co-exist with my family. Anyway, in October of ’98, I made my way back to Granite City. Friends in low places I suppose. I had already started my senior year in Tennessee, but getting back into the swing of things in Granite City was easy. See, because of my mom moving the first time, I was able to become an emancipated minor; so I could take care of all of my paperwork and what not. I got back into my classes, chorus, and back to my friends. This is where I would really bond with the people that will take me into the next couple years; Amanda (whom I already knew, and she was the girl I dated in high school. What a MISTAKE!!! I look back at that and grimace), Tiffany (I still talk to her today), Bill and Amy (They are married now, that’s crazy, they were like the Jerry Springer of couples), and last, but certainly not least my partner in crime Jesse. Wait until you hear these stories!

So my senior year of high school went great! Yes, it really did. I got straight A’s, and graduated with a cumulative GPA of 4.818, not bad eh? My mom, sister, and brother actually came to my graduation! Yes, I was happy to see them, remember my mom saying she didn’t think I’d graduate? This is the first time I heard those words, a great substitute for I’m proud of you. Pfft…I just have to laugh. Nonetheless, I was happy to see them. It’s like a dog who is in a cage and excited to get out, but when you let him out you kick him, put him back in, and he whines. That’s apparently how I was. Anyway, I digress. I graduated high school, and I was happy! Unfortunately, well the other shoe dropped. It started the night of graduation when Amanda decided to spend graduation night, not with me and my family, but with another guy. ***Sidebar***I was turning into my mom, I couldn’t leave a relationship; because I didn’t want to be alone. I allowed myself to be treated like garbage. But this is where the fun began!!!

You see at heart, I have always been and will probably always be, a big kid. I love having fun! What good is life, if you don’t enjoy it? And when I’m happy, I’m a blast to be around. Jesse and I had become so close that we decided to live together. It was decided otherwise, but that’s not important. One night Jesse and I discovered that his mom had a video camera, like one of those heavy ass, kill your shoulder, video cameras; and the birth of “The Jesse James Show.” Fitting, because we were definitely outlaws with this thing! I’m going to get the “Barbie Girl” story out of the way first. We did all kinds of crazy things on this show. The show was comparable to “Wayne’s World.” (I’d say better, but I’m bias). One night we decided on a karaoke version of the show. Jesse is Native American, and he was a muscular fellow, a little shorter than me; but he could charm the pants off of you. That’s important, because he kinda looks like a Ken doll. See where I’m going? So on this version of the show, I got the wild idea of dressing up like Barbie and Jesse Ken, and we did the song. I’m blushing and becoming embarrassed just typing this, but I’ll tell ya one thing; I did make a nice looking Barbie…Just saying! We had a blast with the show. We did New Year’s shows, when we’d do anything, the video camera went with us. We did backyard wrestling, we went on ghost hunts to cemeteries…We did it all. We even got being pulled over on camera. Those two police officers were pretty cool. Anyway, you can see Jesse and I were inseparable. We were still hanging out with the rest of the gang, but it was primarily us two. One of the most memorable nights is when the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl…That’s right that happened, and NOT in Los Angeles…Sorry. Oh, and by the way…a Little Debbie Star Crunch can break a window (Don’t ask…)

      As we moved into the year of Y2K, Amanda and I despised each other. Of course, it became an understood idea among our friends. Then in May of 2000, the absolute worst news I could ever receive, I received. My great-grandmother had passed away (She gets her own piece later on, I OWE it to her). At the age of 89, she had broken her hip, developed Alzheimer’s, and ultimately her health deteriorated. I remember getting the phone call. I fell to the kitchen floor. The next day, running on little sleep, I was making a four hour drive to say the goodbyes to my grandma that I didn’t get to say while she was alive. I gave the eulogy at her funeral, and closed the lid on the casket for the final time. I was 19. Life was becoming too much, and when I got back to Granite City; I found out it was only going to get rougher. There’s another person that weaseled his way into our group, Steve. My blood pressure is rising just thinking about the slimy bastard. While I was away at the funeral, Amanda and Steve decided to sleep together. Talk about one hell of a shot to the gut! Are you serious??? Sadly I am. That was it! Done! Forget this, Seacrest out! So what did I do, I tried to move on, broke a waterbed (Not out of anger, that’s a story not to be told…), and this is when the juvenile delinquent James arrived. I was 19, going on 20. I was a charming guy, and I did have a lot to offer (I’m glad I eventually found Laura, because she can deal with damaged goods. Just twelve years way too late). Anyway, Jesse and I hit the clubs every weekend, and while he was a womanizer; I was not. Charming, sure, but I’m the kind of guy who is oblivious when he is being flirted with. Women did, and still do terrify me. I don’t really remember much more happening the rest of 2000. I turned 20, Amanda didn’t like me trying to move on, and she couldn’t stand Tiffany. Tiffany had a thing for me, and I liked Tiffany; but I knew dating Tiffany was a bad idea. Not because of Tiffany, but because of Amanda. Amanda had a temper, and Tiffany was always in her cross-hairs. Only because, Tiffany was good to me, cared, and would’ve done anything for me (and she did). Amanda was jealous, because to Amanda; I was her bitch. Apparently, I was susceptible. 

2001 was calmer, thankfully. The Rams lost the Super Bowl to the cheating ass Patriots…Cheaters!!! I digress again. I was working at Subway, doing pretty well in that manor. I was playing co-ed softball, staying active. I umpired a little bit that year, but working at Subway took away from that a bit. Then in July, another blow. My grandfather had passed away. He was the reason we initially moved to St. Louis in 1993 (I’ll cover that more in another piece). He died of cancer. Ugly, ugly disease. Jesse and Amanda went to the funeral with me. Yeah, I’m an idiot, but I needed people around me. My grandfather looked like Willie Nelson, and he taught me how to drink beer and pick up women. Sorry grandpa, I was only good at one of them; and boy I can put ’em down. That period of two weeks found me drinking…A LOT! This is where Purple Rain came in. We’d go karaoke, and as some can tell you; you could tell what kind of a week I had, had; depending on how I sang the song. I do a pretty good job of it, but you could always tell. Looking back, I guess you could. Turned 21 that year. Yeah I drank before my 21st birthday…SHHHHH! Spent my 21st birthday by myself. The group was over. Amy had Bill. Jesse had his current wife Trina. Amanda had Steve. Tiffany and I had not spoken for a while, and it wasn’t too much longer…and I’d be gone. 

You live, you learn. I can’t change it, and I wouldn’t…It’s made me who I am today. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned…There’s more to come!

2006-2010: The Rebuilding Years

     So as I left off in the previous post, I tried to rebuild myself in Kentucky following cancer, the ex-wife, and my family (I needed therapy honestly). I was even set up with a woman (another blonde), I should have freaking known, but NOOOOOO!!! She had two kids, and lived in Spottsville, Kentucky. It was good for about six months, but no way in the world was I ready for kids, let alone a relationship. Wasn’t fair to them, her, nor myself. I’ve always found that you must be comfortable with yourself, before you can be that way with someone else. I wasn’t, and wouldn’t be for a VERY long time. So in September 2005, I was on a Greyhound bus to St. Louis. Not just heading west, but I was heading to find who I was, what I was looking for, and MOST importantly; what in the Hell is my purpose in Life now that I beat cancer. Why didn’t I die? Why am I still here? And just for insight, I’m listening to “Danger Zone,” as I write this…That says it all.

The idea was move back to St. Louis, and stay with my buddy Jesse’s family for a little bit once I returned. We’d then go from there. I had stayed with his family briefly when the girl I was with in high school decided to run around. We’ve really graduated language and terminology in seven hours, haven’t we? So that’s just what I did. Got back in St. Louis on a rainy, Sunday, September night, and the first thing I did; I picked up the phone to call back home. Why? Wasn’t I supposed to leave that, and move on? I was confused. My heart hurt, I had no flipping idea of what I was supposed to do. The week progressed and I started working with Jesse, and his side exterior business. We made good money, we were good at it (who knew I could landscape, not me!). One Friday night, everything kinda shifted. Jesse and I had been close through high school, and stayed in touch through my battle with cancer; but he was married, had a little boy (Christian, I remember the false starts at the hospital; I am his Godfather, I HAD to be there), so the dynamic had changed a bit. Anyway, that Friday night, Jesse says let’s go out to Wild Country. Now if you aren’t familiar Friday night’s at Wild Country are just that…Wild. So I run into my high school buddy Mike, and low and behold my good friend J.G….Josh Gillison. He had many nicknames, but I preferred J.G. So while I still worked with Jesse, my nights and weekends were Josh and James times, or as Josh will tell you Maverick and Goose. Times had changed, and I knew it.

Things had changed for Josh as well. Josh and I had a lot in common at home, family dynamic wise. His father had moved to Springfield, and Josh lived with his mom. Needless to say, Josh and I spent a ton of time together. Now in the meantime, I wasn’t rebuilding anything. I was kinda tearing down the rest of the car, and looking for replacement parts. In all honesty, this rebuild was going to be like restoring a 1969 Ford Fairlane…This was about having fun, and my goodness, did we! This wasn’t conducive to being successful, but I was 24, almost 25, and I was letting loose. Josh would crash with me overnight (or sometimes we wouldn’t come in until the Sun came up), or we’d just get a hotel room. It was a crazy month or so after I moved back. Then the other shoe fell. 

Staying at Jesse’s parent’s house was good, for a while. I paid rent while I was there, but things just begin to fall apart inside the house and the last thing I needed was more drama. Remember what I had just left. Constant arguing and because I am the problem solver, they would often come to me for advice. Well when that advice wouldn’t work, there’d be another excuse. It was always something, ALWAYS! At this point, Josh and I had a little disagreement…Look it was stupid, not important, but again more drama. Josh was on his way to living in Springfield after things at home didn’t work out, and I had been hanging out with my high school friend Mandy; whom I had warmed up to, because I needed stability and she offered it. So one night, things really went south at home, and it was time to clean house. Mandy came to pick me up, grab my things, and here we go again. Let’s start over, when I hadn’t really even gotten to that point. Get to Mandy’s and pick up the phone, and call Josh. Now the distance from Springfield, Missouri to Granite City, Illinois, is roughly 225 miles. How many people do you know that at 9 p.m. at night, will say “Hang on Goose, the calvary’s coming…” Hang up the phone, get in the car, drive 225 miles on a Monday night, and make it in two and a half hours? One of the most memorable nights of my life. I’d say this was the beginning of the rebuild. We sang car kareoke that night, before it was even popular…(We should sue for copyright infringement)…But that night changed a lot of things. There was a bond there, a trust, and a friend. 

So Springfield, Missouri, here I come. It was almost like a Big and Rich song. We’re coming to your city. Stayed with Josh, his dad, and his dad’s girlfriend. I was beginning to feel like a pack of Energizer batteries, I’m good for about six months to a year; and then after used up, throw out and replace. We both got a job at Auto Magic detailing cars, and as the song goes; we were working for the weekend. I even bought a belt buckle and a cowboy hat. I was changing EVERYTHING. If you’ve never been to Springfield, it’s cowboy central. These folks are as country as country can get. Spent Christmas that year with Josh and his family; his sister joined us before the end of the year. Shortly after New Year’s, I received a call from my mom saying she had thyroid cancer. I had a decision to make. If you read the previous piece, then you know how that relationship was; non-existent. How is this happening now? I’m trying to rebuild myself, and now as the oldest child; I have to figure this out? I did. I was on a bus to Owensboro, Kentucky. 

January 2006, here I am. Owensboro, Kentucky. A 25 year old, who is about as lost as a blind man in a darkroom, and now I’m back in the place I left. Why? Because I’m that kind of person. Not the first, nor the last time I have been burnt for being a nice guy. So the first month was just trying to settle back in. My brother was a Sophomore in high school, my sister was living elsewhere, and I didn’t want to be there; but I saw that I had a responsibility. A month in, I decided to go back to school. Spent a semester at Daymar College. A semester. Trust me that was more than enough. While there, I met a girl. Dated for six months, thought it could have been serious; but she cheated on me as well. That’s two Amandas, two cheaters…Damn James. Really? Pick another name would ya? During the time, I started umpiring. Met some really good people, including Tom DeJarnatt. More about him later…He became my Mentor, Friend, Umpiring partner, and Father Figure…So during 2006, I got a job bagging groceries. Trying to help at home, fix myself, and figure out WHAT IN THE HELL IS MY LIFE’S PURPOSE!!!

2007 was a better year. Two years after remission. Getting into a groove with work, umpiring, and making friends; I was doing okay. Was focusing on me, as much as I could. Mom made that hard. If the focus wasn’t on her, then she made life absolute Hell on you. I mean that. It was her, or nothing. Many times I felt more like her bitch, than her son; and when she was done with you, she wanted you to go away…so I did. Well kinda, between Tom and my buddy Alex, enter my weekend umpire trips. Alex and I did baseball together, and Tom and I did softball. Tom and I, our trips were always fun. We’d go out to dinner, and Tom was the kind of guy that could make you pee your pants laughing with his comments. For Tom and I, causal business trips is what I’d call them. Alex and I, well these were weekend parties with umpiring on the side. Alex and I were like the guys on “A Night at The Roxbury.” Many Sundays we’d be sweating out booze from the night before, but we always did the job and we did it well! Met a girl in 2007, Heather (Yay, not an Amanda!). We hit it off really well, and she had a little boy named Mason. We were perfect for a long time. In July of 2007, I hurt my knee on the ballfield, and that kind of put a strain on the relationship. Surgery #1 on my knee, meniscus surgery. She was a radiologist, funny huh? Anyway, it wasn’t just the meniscus that was torn. We tried to make it work, but we both agreed…Just end it. So let’s start over AGAIN!!! It’s like just erase it all, but the hard drive of my heart was just creating another layer…What in the HELL am I supposed to do? How do I fix myself? A lot of this was on me…It just was. Again, I’m not fixed. Not comfortable. How do I move on?

2008…Oh boy! So I decided it was time to get a different degree. I had my Communications degree, but that’s when I expected to move back and stay in St. Louis. Someone had to die or retire to get a good radio or television job here; Spoiler Alert: IT HASN’T CHANGED!!! I enrolled at Owensboro Community College. Ultimately, I ended up with an Associates in Arts, and then in 2012 one in Science. 2008 was a weird year. Mom seemed to be doing okay, although taking care of her became more and more stressful. If I was gone, I heard about it and being there, well the same thing. I stuck through it, because I’m that guy. I met my buddy Robert (still friends, and umpires), and we became really close. We had class together, and just hit it off. So the Summer of 2008…Well…I…Had a Public Speaking Class…This is where it gets weird. I had been out of a relationship for quite a while, and really focused on myself; and rebuilding this car. We were getting there. Well, first day of the Summer semester; I’m feeling good. I’m happy. Work, umpiring, life (for the most part) was fantastic…I, at this point, just wanted attention…Well….I got it. Those of you who know, well you know. It was a fling, it didn’t last long, ended ugly…Ballgame. But what it did do was hurt. It set me back a long way. I was yesterday’s news. I was empty, I hurt, and just when I thought I had fixed myself or was well on my way; I wasn’t. Square One. Back to when Cherie left me. It undid all of it. That was a cold winter. I had started working at Salsarita’s as a manager at night, after classes. Driving around aimlessly after we closed at 9 p.m. I was in trouble. Home sucked, I sucked, school was great, work was just that…work. I remember New Year’s Eve that year, I was in bed by 8 p.m. I felt helpless. 

2009 was not a fond memory either. Mom decided in March that I was useless to her again, and she put my belongings on the front lawn. Thankfully, I had good friends. My friends Courtney and Katie took me in, and it was like “Three’s Company.” I was Jack Tripper…For those of you who are young, look it up! I met my bestest friend in the whole wide world Jordan, when I started working at KWC 90.3 FM. We had the nastiest ice storm ever that year, and the year wasn’t off to a great start. I started doing the morning show with Larry in late January, we were good. That lasted about a month, and then it was all mine for about three months. Things were good. Between the station, baseball, and softball; I was content. Working on myself, doing me, and trying to put life back together; I had my hands full. Tom and I were still going strong, and I’ll never forget his favorite quote to me, “So who is it this season?” I’d always fall into it. “What do you mean?” “Well you have a new girl every season!” He was right. I couldn’t sustain a relationship to save my life. I was literally afraid to get too close. Trust…Not happening. I dated and flirted, but always pulled away before it got serious. No I don’t kiss and tell; forget it! The other problem was, I was turning back into pre-cancer James. And what I mean was, the new James wasn’t working. I was being used and abused. I was thrown out like yesterday’s garbage. I had the mentality “Who in the Hell do you think I am, just to be tossed aside!” That was a problem. I didn’t want to become that person again, but I felt as if I didn’t have a choice. What else could I do? I felt as if I had tried everything…so 2009 came and went, and it did so quickly. I had gotten kinda buddy-buddy with Courtney and Katie’s friend Amanda (Hat-trick), I know…and we started going on dates and got really close. That led into 2010.

Courtney was on her way to getting married, Katie was just on her way, and Amanda and I were, well we just were. I was a manager at a Christian Book Store, and was very happy with work. I umpired occasionally. Jordan and I were still close. Tom and I saw each other on the ballfield, and hung out when we could. I still checked on mom when I could, or she called to say she needed something. I had simmered on the pre-cancer James stuff. I had a little bit of hope, and things were in place. February 2010, brought on another knee surgery, and I was down for quite a while. Amanda and I were okay, until of course her ex came into the picture. Here’s the thing, while I had issues with fixing myself; she did too. Not a great potion for a successful relationship. I screwed things up, as I always seemed to do that May; but it worked out. Ultimately long term. I was on my way to where I needed to be. Then in October 2010, I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affect Disorder, and then I realized…Geez, maybe I really am broken…

I wasn’t going to add what “today James” would say to myself back then, but it’s my piece, WHY THE HELL NOT!!! I was an absolute mess back then. I was all over the place. I couldn’t commit to much of anything. The one constant was umpiring, work, and school. Once Jordan, Robert, and Tom came into my life; they were too. It’s a good thing that I had them. A ton of late night phone calls, early breakfasts, and between class cigarettes. I hated myself for a good portion of this time period. I couldn’t figure out who I was, wanted to be, or my potential. As much as I wanted to focus on myself, it was always worrying about everyone else. I’d love to give myself advice on that, but I’m still like that. There’s really a lot of this time period that still affects my life today. Yes, it’s annoying, I can be a pain in the ass from November to March, but again the escape into sports…I can’t give much advice to myself here, I just can’t; because much of it is still a battle…

 

Straight and to the Point!