The Good Years: 34
It's hard when you know how bad something ends to look back on it fondly at all. 34 was the year I met my second wife, April, and though the way it all turned out certainly sours the overall experience, this was a very good year for me.
I was three years sober at the time and finishing up my undergraduate degree at Central Connecticut State University. I was also wrapping up a dead-end relationship, a girl I'd met in rehab that ended the way relationships usually end with girls you meet in rehab.
At CCSU, I was a star. At 34, I was considerably older than the other students, but not so ridiculously much older that I was like this guy:
I pretty much lived on the 3rd floor of Willard, which is where the English Dept. was, hanging out in professor offices and working at the school's writing center, and editing the school's literary magazine, Helix, down the hall, and I still smoked back then. Not even lights, but full-flavored Camel filters. Good times. And I had a sidekick.
Jon Page was short and hairy, with crappily drawn tattoos, and a big bushy beard. He looked like this:
Every morning we got coffee together before class. Green Mountain coffee from the little convenience store, where we'd smoke and talk, and it doesn't sound like much, but I was coming off ten years of drugs and poverty and homelessness, and having a friend to talk to and smoke cigarettes with before class was pretty fucking awesome.
And then there was the writing.
It turned out I was good at something. At least that is what I was told. I took writing classes with Dave Cappella and Dr. Ostrowski, and Ravi Shankar and Tom Hazuka and Jill Weinberger, and I was winning awards and contests and giving readings and getting scholarships, and it was all pretty fucking sweet.
Not that there wasn't bad, too. My mother and father were both dying. But even that, as weird as it sounds, I was finally doing well. I'd been such a shitty son for so long, the fact that they got to see me excelling at something, achieving whatever, however small on the grand scale, meant it was as good as they'd seen me.
It's funny. Justine was looking at an old copy of Helix the other day, and she was laughing because the whole thing was like Oprah's Magazine, all Joe, all the time. I'm on the fucking cover with my paintings, and I took the centerfold too. And there was my (crappy) poetry, (almost unreadable) early excerpts from my memoir, and short stories, and song lyrics, and I'd publish friends, as well. When I took over the magazine, I got us a, like, $10,000 a year budget (don't ask me how), so this all was 4 color, good looking shit, and it's where I got to hone my editorial chops.
And, like I said, I met my second wife.
I received a message a while ago that my ex-wife reads this blog, which in itself is pretty funny (I don't know why any ex-wife would want to read her ex-husband's blog), in which I was told not to write about her family. Which is also pretty funny, since I never have, nor would I ever, say a bad word about them. My (ex) in-laws and sister-in-law were amazing people, and I thought the world of them. I still do. When I met and married April, one of the biggest perks was I also got a new family, which worked out well, since as I said, my parents were gone. When the divorce happened, I lost them, but I don't fault them for that. She was their daughter, and they stuck by her, as they should.
My 34th year, it looked like everything was where it should be. I was sober. I had a degree. I had a direction, and it's not a cliche to say I had a new lease on life. OK. It's a cliche, but that don't mean it wasn't fucking true.
I was going to graduate school. I was going to be an author. I had it all figured out. And then it all turned to shit. Again.