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There She Goes

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Let’s start with the fact that I wasn’t getting enough sleep.

An inveterate self-medicator, I was loading myself up with every nontoxic sleep-inducing agent I could think of: a pair of chlorpheniramine maleate antihistamine tablets, four valerian capsules, a couple of generic acetaminophens, four melatonin pills.

Enough to sedate a small bison, and I was still popping up like a toaster on a timer several times a night, agitating my wife and frightening the baby, whose bed is still in our room. I’d get up to stay at 6:30am, stumble into the bathroom, look in the mirror and see this baggy-eyed MIDDLE-AGED man.

There I’ve said it: I’ve never admitted that I am middle-aged before, even to my wife who is 33. I’ve just kept pushing the boundaries of “young man” ever further until all of a sudden I turned 44 and looked my age or worse in the morning when I didn’t sleep very well, which was much of the time.

I tried to figure out why I was so agitated at night when my mind was left to its own devices, but other than the usual stuff that has never bothered me much – I have to make more money, I have to make more money – I wasn’t able to come up with anything.

Then, the other day I was driving back from Akron to the office after taping my radio show, feeling a little tired and spacey but generally okay. I was heading east on the Turnpike, a little one-exit jaunt, when all of a sudden, to my utter disbelief and mortification I found myself bawling my eyes out – not a discreet movie theater dribble out the corner of one eye, but a full-on blubbering torrent.

I could barely see the road. I looked in the rearview mirror of my manly Ford truck, and some red-eyed horror creature stared back at me. I simply could not stop crying.

This was bizarre and painful and cramped my upper abdominals, causing me to bend forward, making it VERY difficult to see the road and steer the truck at 65 mph. I gave up and pulled over.

Then, sitting on the side of the Turnpike, weeping like a little girl, it fell on me like a house: I’m going to miss MY little girl, or rather, my now big girl.

My older daughter is 18 and graduated from high school in June. She is going away soon to Americorps for a year before she starts college. She has always been around, or just barely out of reach, since I was a very young and foolish 25 year-old.

And now she is going away, really going away, and it will never be the same again – no matter what. She will go away to Americorps, be based in Washington DC, and serve her fellow man for a year. I will barely see her.

Then she’ll go to college for at least four years; and even if she moves back home and lives under my bed, it will never be the same because she will be all grown up and never be my sweet-smiled little cherub ever again. It just breaks my heart RIGHT NOW.

I don’t want to hold her back: she’s beautiful and talented and intelligent, and mature in many ways without being precocious, and she’s ready to take on the world as a free agent, as her own person. I wouldn’t want her sulking around anyway: she’s very resolute – okay stubborn at times – and wouldn’t stand for being constrained. It isn’t that. It’s just that I’ll miss her and won’t be able to see her when I want to, and I love her so much….

After all of this came flooding in to my addled brain, I didn’t stop weeping like a freak immediately, but the sting eased out of the tears and I found some peace in discovering the pea under the mattress of my psyche. I blinked a few more times, wiped my salty face one more time and eased back into the flow of traffic.

When I got back to the office I started writing this down, which turned my apparently seriously repressed feelings into things. It is much easier to come to terms with an object than its shadow. The sludge from the bottom of the swamp that the dredge hauls up dripping and oozing at least has substance: you can dry it out, look at it through a microscope, describe it, or flush it down the toilet. But at least it’s there.

When I finished writing the above, I read it over and shed a final tear (I HATE that), then a wave of fatigue capsized my mental tugboat. I called it a day and slept like a baby, or at least a sedated baby, since we all know that regular babies wake up at the drop of a hair.

In the real world, there is no “happily ever after,” but I’m okay now. “Ever after” still comes day by day, as it always has, and you either live a given day happily or you don’t. I’m adjusting: I’ve still got my 15 year-old around for a while longer, and I’ve got an almost 3 year-old around FOR A GOOD LONG TIME, but that doesn’t mean I’ll miss my first baby any less.

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About Eric Olsen