Finding Fidelity—We Built This City

I stood in the sparsely adorned basement with my new Springsteen album spinning away on the turntable. About all I had accomplished was to assemble the modular crates that held my record collection, stack my stereo on a rusty metal cart I’d snatched from the city dump, and set up a table I’d grabbed off Craigslist for the kids to use as a LEGO workspace. 

Although the cement floors were painted a shade of institutional gray, the 2×4 framing was in place, and the outlets and lights were installed, there was not much else in the cavernous space. A pair of flat-screen TVs I’d managed to talk Mercedes out of sat in one corner on the kid’s half. Boxes of old VHS tapes, my old VCR, and my vintage red spherical TV sat in the corner of my half.  

As I downed beer after beer and spun “Born in the U.S.A.” over and over, I hauled boxes of screws, sheets of plywood, and every possible dimension of lumber from the garage to the basement. I didn’t want to waste any of Brandon’s time on tasks that I could handle alone. As a cost-saving measure, we decided to finish neither the walls nor the ceiling.

While the basement at Valentine Lake did have finished walls and ceilings, the floor was a cement slab in all rooms except the bedroom Brandon occupied. I liked the idea of a “finished” unfinished space. It evoked strong feelings of nostalgia for our old fort under the stairwell. And it seemed like an apt metaphor for my life at that moment. 

After hauling down the three area rugs I’d scored on Craigslist, and vacuuming them vigorously with a vacuum in my right hand and a beer in left, I stood and surveyed our future most awesome hangout. It was likely a combination of the alcohol and music, but I started to feel very omnipotent.

I took a long pull from the bottle in my hand and thought about everything I’d overcome since the divorce. I scanned the space that Brandon and I were going to transform, together, again. I envisioned a subterranean amusement park of sorts where Josie, Drew, and I could all be alone together. A lair of wonder and possibility where all of us could explore our interests, indulge our passions, and just be kids again—we’d all been forced to grow up way too fast.  

As I flipped the record for the fourth time and dropped the needle, “No Surrender” burst forth from the speakers. I gave the HPM-100s about as much gas as my eardrums would tolerate. I twisted open another beer. I took a longer than necessary swig as tears began to stream from the corners of my eyes. I looked upward toward the ceiling, toward the heavens, and bellowed, “This is mine—you fucking owe me this at fucking least you fuckers!”  

I was overcome by the deluge of emotions that had silently tortured me almost daily. Emotions that I subconsciously refused to acknowledge. Emotions that I stuffed into the deepest darkest corner of my pathetic existence. I then shook my beer bottle at the universe in a show of defiance showering myself with beer in the process. In that moment, this felt like a recalcitrant demonstration that proved I was unbroken despite everything. A failed marriage had not broken me. Single fatherhood had not beaten me. A chi destroying job had not destroyed me. And a roughshod childhood had failed to murder me by my own hands.

All of that was not nothing.

The universe owed me this oasis for the rocky journey and rotten surprises it had dropped at my feet. I would build this sanctuary as a refuge—a retreat from the ridiculous existence I’d orchestrated and survived. This would be the space where all of us could eschew real life at the top of the stairs and escape as we descended into blissful solitude, together. 

At the last chorus of my redemption song, I loosed a primal scream that emanated from the deepest darkest corner of my soul—that secret space where I’d always stashed all the loathsome emotional shit. It was one of those cleansing screams that washes the body, mind, and soul. It felt so amazing that I holstered my beer and let out another one. This time, I put my whole body into it, my legs, my arms, my hands,.

For a split second, I considered whether I was having a nervous breakdown. But it felt much more like a cathartic revelation. accordingly, I unholstered my beer, guzzled the last foamy vestiges, and screamed one more time before I flung the almost empty bottle through the framing at the laundry room wall propelled by all of the ancient unacknowledged angst. Predictably, it shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. The feeling of utter destruction was utterly salubrious!  

Chips and bits of brown glass exploded from the laundry room in every conceivable direction. They bleed into the living room, storage room, and my future office. A tiny shard, having ricocheted a ten feet from the laundry room wall right back at me, was resting on the tip of my right shoe. A few sticky slivers of glass were even plastered onto the cinder block wall.

The band played on, unabated.

I stood in a daze, empty, momentarily,

Amid the ruins of this most cathartic beer bottle sat this large rectangular piece, broken but not destroyed, defiant despite the surrounding massacre. The label from the bottle was still clinging to this largest remaining shard of the glass bottle.

I became fixated on this anomaly. As glass crunched under my shoes, I walked over and snatched it from the carnage. In my mind, it was a nearly perfect Pink Floyd-ian tetrahedron. And. that was obviously a sign. There was more crunching as I proceeded toward the laundry tub to wash off my trophy. I rinsed it and slid it into my pocket. I pledged to clean the rest up in the morning after coffee. 

I then died…in bed. 

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