Best Possible

23 Jul

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted, but I’ve thought of my blog and those who read it often. This post isn’t so much an update as a, well, a Something. A couple of weeks after the boys were born and passed, I began writing a short piece without any sort of idea where it was going or who would be likely to read it. Maybe it would be just for me.

Tonight finds me at an open mic night at Seka Coffee House in Long Beach. I’ve been given 5 minutes to do whatever I want with a captive audience and I’ve decided to read what I wrote. Due to time, I’m only doing an excerpt, but the full text is below, if you’re interested.

It’s called Best Possible and it was inspired by my sons.

It’s after sundown. I’m in my car and I’m driving somewhere, only I don’t know exactly where because that’s up to my passenger, who’s giving directions, calling out the turns and the exits, the merges and the yields. I ask him about the destination and he says “trust me” and I’m not altogether sure I do, but I will.

He’s in his 40s, maybe even 50, and his hair’s starting in with the gray, but mostly he’s pretty thin up top. He’s paunchy and pale, with a voice like my father’s, only a little deeper, and a profile like my mother’s, only a little more beaky and it’s been a few days since he’s shaved.

Point of fact, he looks exactly like me. Or anyway, exactly how I’ll look in 10 or 15 years. Truth is, he’s my future self and he’s returned to his past, my present, to tell me to stay on the 710 south.

“How many kids do you have?” he asks me and I tell him he already knows and he says, “humor me, would you?” and I tell him the truth, which is to say I had 3 boys, but now they’re dead.

He shakes his head and winces. “I’m sorry,” he tells me. “You’re one of those. Two of my sons also passed, but the third, Oscar, he made it. He starts high school in the fall.”

The place we arrive, it’s sort of a little studio, the kind where they teach children karate, only it seems to be closed. My passenger, the future me, says, “go ahead in.” I cut the engine, undo my seatbelt and hesitate. Finally, I ask him if he has any, I don’t know, advice or something. He itches his nose and rakes his fingers through his hair the same way I’ve done since I was a toddler and eventually says, “oh, sure. You should exercise more.”

I leave Future Me in the car and head inside. The door’s unlocked and the lights are off, except for a little desk lamp on a tiny, wooden table in the center of the room, between a couple of chairs. In one of them sits Future Me, who I could’ve sworn was in the car just a second ago. He’s slightly older, or maybe younger. Something’s different and it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what, but he’s focused on his paperback copy of The Brothers Karamazov, the one collecting dust at home on my shelf in my office, and if he notices me, he doesn’t say anything.

I sit in the opposite chair and eventually break the tension by telling him I’ve tried to make it through Karamazov three times and I always fail miserably. He looks up and chuckles and says, “this is attempt number five for me and it’s a real climb. Would it kill these people to have a regular conversation once in awhile? Page 170 and I’m ready to murder all three brothers.”

We spend a few minutes talking about books we like and books we don’t and he mentions Ayn Rand and I tell him she’s one of Carey’s favorites and he says “who’s Carey?” I’m not sure if he’s joking, but I say, you know, she’s my wife and he closes his eyes and smiles. “Carey, right. From college.”

I’m for mystery as much as the next man (and in this particular case, that’s me too), but I eventually ask him who he is, what this is. He points to a little door in the back of the studio that reads STAFF and says, “you’re going to have to go in there, sooner or later.” Then he hands me a raffle ticket with a number hand-written on it and says, “I’m you. The you that gets you ready.”

I open the door.

The STAFF room is less of a room and more of an indoor arena. Not exactly a stadium, but it’s in the neighborhood. There seems to be a big event going on in the center, on some kind of red platform, complete with concert-style lighting.

Also, the place is, well, packed. Old men, young men, everything in between. Some in outrageous outfits, some in understated suits. A handful seem to be drunk or high and others still are handicapped. But the big thing they all have in common is they all look exactly like me.

“We’re waiting,” says a voice next to me, who turns out to be a very pained-looking, mid-twenties me, propped against a wall, clutching his sides. “You’ll want to get comfortable, most of us have been here awhile.” I ask what we’re waiting for and he says, through gritted teeth, “we’re all waiting for some one-on-one time with the guy on stage. The one in the center.” I ask who’s in the center and he says, “it’s me. You. All of us. But he’s the Best Possible Version.”

I thank him and begin making my way down the aisles. But before I do, I ask him if he’s having kidney stone trouble. “How’d you guess,” he says and I tell him to try a shot of lemon juice each morning. He says, “no kidding?”

Every 10 or 20 minutes, the sound system barks out a number. I take a look at my raffle ticket and it looks like I have a few thousand ahead of me. I do my best to get situated.

Hours turn into days turn into months. I spend a lot of time talking to other me’s, listening to my life story over and over, sometimes with only slight variations from my own experience, sometimes wildly different. Since we all have the same name, we refer to each other by our numbers, which is kind of cool and makes us all feel like Patrick McGoohan.

It’s the old versions of myself, the guys who are 80+, that really flip my shit. They don’t seem in any hurry to convince any of their younger selves of anything and they’re mostly short on words of wisdom. It’s all Que Sera Sera, which is the opposite of the frantic teens and reckless 20s.

I hear stories of me’s that were and others that weren’t and others still that were, but maybe not quite in the way I remember. For example, I attended Samford University, met and married a girl named Molly, and began art directing video games. I also sold my first play when I was 18, which was called Whatever Gets You Through The Night and divided my 20s between trying to get stage shows off the ground in New York and living with my dad in Hartville when money was tight.

I had an affair with a coworker when I was 31, divorced Carey for her, and turned to getting high when that ended in tears. In high school, I was screwing around with Matt Brainard and wound up getting hit by an icicle, which took off my left leg. At 52, I published a book on 15th century Spain that less than 100 people bought and at 25, I lost my life to a drunk driver.

There are a few trending themes. Carey’s in a lot of the stories, the lives, maybe even half of them. Art and writing, in some form or another, are in nearly all of them. I tend to wind up with at least one child. I’m typically either Christian or agnostic, but sometimes Buddhist and in one case, I’m even a Scientologist, if you can believe that.

The only thing I’m consistently sure of, with each story I hear, is that I’m simultaneously inspired and disgusted by what I’m capable of.

Finally, my number’s up.

I head up the stairs to the red platform, head buzzing with all the conversations of recent weeks and months, trying to keep straight which me I am. At the top, on a small, tan couch, sits the Best Possible Version of me. He’s older than I am, significantly older, with silver-crazed eyebrows and leather suspenders. He looks tired. Ready for whatever I have to throw at him, but still tired.

He stands when I approach and shakes my hand. “It’s your time,” he tells me. “What would you like to talk about?”

We sit. I tell him I’ve been thinking about that parable where everybody puts all their problems in a big pile and winds up taking back their own problems for themselves when given the choice. I tell him the story’s bullshit, as I see it. I’ve met a lot of me’s recently and there were quite a few of them whose life I’d choose over mine. I miss my sons. I want a life where I get to see them grow into men.

Best Possible nods. “What do you want to ask me?” he says.

I tell him I want to know what he did so differently from the rest of us. Was it faith that made him better? Or adversity? Or was he just born with a better soul? How did he avoid all the mistakes the rest of us seem to make?

“I avoided nothing,” he says. “I’ve probably made more bad choices than anyone here. Not just because I’ve had time to make them, but because I’ve been terribly, terribly stupid with my talents and my relationships. If there was something to screw up, I screwed it up. I could tell you my story, but you’ll have to take my word for it: it’s a real heartbreaker.”

I ask him what makes him the Best. Did he cure cancer or something?

“No,” he says, “you need to listen to me, here. I haven’t led a good life and I spend my time choking on regret. But I look around and I see all these versions of myself and I ask every single one the same question: how do you feel about the men assembled here?”

I say I love them.

“Yes,” he says. “So do I. And they all love you, too. They’d do anything for you, because they know you from the inside. Isn’t that the perfect way to feel about someone else?”

I say Yes it is.

“I doubt any reasonable person would call me the best version of anything,” he says, “but I sit up here because one of us has to and I thought it might ease the burden of a life that didn’t turn out how I’d planned. You already know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?”

I nod and say You’re going to offer me your seat.

The old me slings an arm over my shoulder: “Yours if you want it.”

And if this is a dream, here’s where I wake up.

And if this is what it’s like to be dead, here’s where I find out What’s Next.

And if this is just a story, here’s where I clue you in about the sort of story you’ve been taking in.

And no matter what I decide, the numbers will continue to bark from the sound system and the long procession of me will continue up and down the stairs, maybe some staying in the Best seat, others not wanting to bear the weight. The artists, the husbands, the leaders, the abusers, the addicts, the fathers, the heroes, the professionals and the basket cases, everything I ever could have been and ever could be are waiting their turn.

Like Patrick McGoohan, though, I’m not a number. I’m a free man.

And while I may not be the one who decides how my life turns out, how my story goes, I do have a say.

Today I say Continue.

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42 Responses to “Best Possible”

  1. Christy R July 23, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    Very good Jeremy. I really enjoyed hearing you read it (half at least). And yes, it is a piece that makes me think and leaves me wondering…. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jessica Renshaw July 23, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Profound. Unique. Ripples. . .

  3. Grandma Jack July 24, 2011 at 1:18 am #

    Wow! how very thought provoking. I am Al’s mom and have been following your blog for some time. You, Carey and the boys have been in my prayers and continue to be. Blessings to you all.

  4. Esther Hanes July 24, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    Wow. Amazing piece. Period.

  5. Michele Beck July 24, 2011 at 5:47 am #

    My daughter sent this to me, She has been telling me your story all along. I am in the midst of a crisis and like you, it is not what I would have chosen for me. After reading this blog I will make the decision to be the best of me in the crisis. I am terribly sorry for your loss I am thankful for your words.

  6. Karen from winona July 24, 2011 at 7:37 am #

    Jer,
    I cannot even put into words what today’s blog did for me. It thoughtfully moved me emotionally to places and gave me pause for reflections into my own life. You are so very gifted and talented and special. I know I have said this before to you but I feel honored to be even a small part of your world.

    Karen from Winona

  7. Jessica Renshaw July 24, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    Jeremy, I tagged you (that means referred to you, right?) on my blog HisScribbler.blogspot.com. I’ve been mulling over all the possible me’s. I could have made even worse choices than I have. Whew.

  8. Carly July 24, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    This is a fantastic piece. I would have liked to have heard it live.

  9. Dana July 24, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Jeremy,

    I’ve been sitting here, staring at my computer screen and watching the little bar blink for awhile now. I wish for things to go back to the way they were. I wish for things to be different somehow. I wish someone could tell me everything will be alright. But, no matter what anyone says, good or bad, things will always be different.

    I’ve been thinking about you and Carey a lot lately. ❤

  10. lis July 24, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    very moving and thought provoking for sure, i try to live every day being the best possible me, but i suppose other me’s get the seat sometimes. what matters is that we care, right? and that we’re trying to do the best we can with what we have come to be.
    beautifully written.
    lis

  11. Angela (Ogden) Dephouse July 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Wow. I’m going to be processing that for the next couple days. Such a dream-like quality to the story…is that how it started?

    I was praying for you and Carey yesterday on my way to a funeral. I can hardly think of loss without thinking of you two–you five. I still ask God “Why?” and wonder if He’ll let the same kind of thing happen to me. I ask Him to help you trust Him again, even though it probably feels like He dropped the ball in a big way. I don’t know how you recover from this, or if you can really recover from it. I just hope you know you’re not forgotten. Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar are not forgotten. My 5-year-old prays for you at bedtime every single night, and I’m still grieving with you.

  12. Katie Hinman July 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    WOW that was amazing!! You are amazing and your wife is amazing. Praying for you guys always.

  13. Shelby Cherry July 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Wow… This is the second time I’ve read it and I’m sure it won’t be the last. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Carey, always.

  14. kelley biechler July 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    Jeremy,My heart is heavy for you. My love goes out to you and carey. You and carey are the best parents. You will be reunited someday.

  15. kelley biechler July 24, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    Jeremy,my heart is heavy for you. My love goes out to you and carey. You are both an inspiration to me. You will be reunited someday and it will be wonderful.

  16. StayatHomeTripletDad July 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    OK, you suck… why you ask? Because you can write in such a way that makes me want to read, which I try to avoid doing:) Great work my man. Your writing reminds me of my thinking which is fun and crazy. Question for you…. if there is a (verticle) stack of.. oh say 10 books on a table and I ask you to hand me the first one… which do you grab?

    I hope it goes without saying that your family is in my thoughts and prayers.

    Al

    • Jeremy July 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

      Thanks, Al. It’s true, I suck.

      Re: stack of books… er, the top one? Sincerely, are you asking for reading recommendations?

      • StayatHomeTripletDad July 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

        I ask about the stack of books because that is how my wife explains me and the way I think to people by using that analogy. Most if not all would grab the one on top. I see the bottom one as the first one, sort of like the first floor in a building. Other than your writing I have had very few books that have grabbed my attention. The ones that come to mind are The Shack, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy four book trilogy and Tom Clancy’s books.

        If you only had one book to take with you into solitary confinement, what would it be? Besides the Bible:)

        Keep the faith Brother!

        Al

        • Jeremy July 25, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

          Ah, I see. Well, in my case, I’d take a sketchbook with me. 🙂

  17. April July 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    One of the best short stories I’ve ever read. I always expect smart, tight and thought-provoking when I read your writing. I think this has gone to a new level. I’m glad you shared it.

  18. Erin Burtoft July 25, 2011 at 3:51 am #

    Incredible. Multi-layered. Intense. Inspiring. I keep reading this short story and I get something new out of it each time. You are so talented Jer. Thanks for sharing. I am confident that Rudyard, Desmond, and Oscar are proud of their father. I know I am. Love ya.

  19. Bob W. July 25, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    Jeremy, this is outstanding. What makes your writing so good is that you have the capacity to look within, recognize the common truth that runs through us all and translate that into words that make us say “Yes, I know…”. Thank you for sharing this.

  20. Randy Bear July 25, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    Very well written Jer. Very well indeed. I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating… I’m very very proud of you. Exceedingly abundantly proud. You would have been, and will be, a tremendous dad. I have no doubt.

  21. pyjammy July 25, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    Incredible. I am kind of speechless.

  22. will adamczyk July 25, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Jeremy..amazing,profound,authentic,deep,real,sad,beautiful,inspiring… ..God has blessed you with so many abilities and He can use your writing-and he already has-to touch the lives of so many people including many who live this life in quiet desparation and don’t have a way to express their pain,struggle and voice..your words and insight- and the encouragement to continue on -depsite a million reasons not to, offer a lifeline to those holding on by their fingernails, which are all of us on some days…our thoughts and prayers are with you and Carey.

  23. Jeremy July 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    I deeply appreciate the comments.

    It helped me a great deal to write down this weird scenario. It was a little unlike my usual process, in which I typically have a general idea where I want to end up and I kind of write towards it. In this particular case, I genuinely didn’t know what was coming, one sentence to the next and it was cathartic to work through.

  24. Jessica Renshaw July 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Jeremy, I sent my brother Ted Reynolds in Ann Arbor–who published his first short story at 13 to an adult science fiction magazine and has taught creative writing–the link to this blog. He’s very, very hard to impress. He wrote back, “The story is a gem; I couldn’t change a word, and everyone should read it. It can fill a chink in my own attitude to loss. I have also read the whole blog, and added it to my favorites. Now I’ll have to go find a box of kleenexes.”

    • Jeremy July 25, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

      Well, please thank him for me, Jessica. That’s very kind and encouraging!

  25. Cara July 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    This is truly inspirational. Your writing is incredible. Please come out with a book.

    • Jeremy July 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

      Thanks, Cara.

      (BTW, I am. Pretty soon. Shh.)

  26. Becky July 25, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Jeremy,
    I’m moved and inspired by your story. I won’t to scream at the top of my lungs, “That’s it! My God, you’ve seen the truth and it has set you free…” Yes, you’re right, we are “simultaneously inspired and disgusted by what I’m capable of” but when we see the whole of Who we are and Love that sight, we’re home. I don’t mean to imply that is some kind of end, actually it is a beginning. All of Life will now be sifted through that Truth. I believe that Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar came to bring that revelation to you… amazing grace…
    You are a gift to me and I love you very much,
    mom

  27. Becky July 25, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    P.S. Ayn Rand is one of Aunt Sue’s newest favorite authors and she just gave me “Atlas Shrugged” for my birthday… Life is funny…

  28. Suzy July 25, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    This is a fantastic read. Thank you for sharing it with us all. I can only imagine what my ‘other selves’ would have to tell me.

  29. tracey July 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Amaaaaazing. “Continue”: WOW. All I can say to that is WOW. Loved it.

  30. Aaron Crabtree July 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Jer,
    I continue to shake my head at your creativity… I read this a few minutes after you posted the update on twitter and have reflected on it multiple times a day since. Thanks for deepening my definition and understanding of love – through the short story and sharing your boys with us.

    Aaron

  31. Delaney July 29, 2011 at 3:48 am #

    Still sifting through the story and get all the nuances out that I know are there, but I just wanted to thank you for posting again. I’ve been thinking about you and Carey and checking in to see if you’d resurfaced. I’m glad to “see” you.

  32. Lauren Martin July 31, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Good lands, I was all embarrassed when I blanked on you when you mentioned this to me the other day so I came back to it today. I got through the second paragraph and realized I never read the whole thing– some screaming kid interrupted me the other day (shocking) and I forgot I never finished it! (S.I.G.H.)
    This was amazing, inspiring, and thought provoking. I think I’ll need to read it several more times to get the gravity of it and to ponder my own life. As it’s already been said, you are amazing. I love reading your writing. It’s like nothing else I have read. Again, what a gift to the boys you are. You have used your talents in every possible way to honor them. We all wish we had the means to do the same for our own families. (Though you would probably challenge me that we DO have those means, even if it’s not in the form of art or writing…) Love ya, and I’m so proud of you. XOXO

  33. StayatHomeTripletDad August 23, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    You all are in my (our) thoughts and prayers daily.

    Al

  34. modvegan August 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    I miss your frequent posting. I wish things were so different than they are. I wish so badly our boys were here with us. I love you. Thank you for this message to continue. I guess it’s all we can do. xoxo

    • Erin Burtoft September 1, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

      I miss the posts too. I wish so much that the boys were with you both right now. Thanks Jer and Carey for continuing, even though you are walking through a valley of pain that many of us will never grasp. I love you guys, and the boys. Always will.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Letters Home « Mod Vegan - September 16, 2011

    […] Home” to our boys, and Jeremy’s beautiful drawing of them. In the letters I reference this story that Jeremy wrote. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s amazing and inspiring and […]

  2. The Land of Do-As-You-Please | Tips On Triplets - June 4, 2014

    […] take part in open mic events at a coffee house in Long Beach. In the past, I’ve read a story inspired by the boys and, last week, I mentioned them in a presentation I gave about my personal passion-issue, which is […]

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