So, if you are human, like most of us here, you have undoubtedly fallen victim to the "What if..." train of thought that always seems to occupy the back of our minds all of the time. What if I had left earlier? What if I turned right instead of left? What if I had kissed her instead of just saying goodnight?
What if I had said "No thanks" when offered that first joint? Or cigarette? Or beer? What if I had decided not to rob or steal, drive too fast, commit crimes of convenience, or any other of the countless negatives that we experience in our lives.
I sit here, early in the morning before the sun rises, watching the world stretch and wake up, and I often have thoughts like these. Maybe it is a symptom of getting older, but it seems as if I never really gave much thought to how my decisions affect me and those around me. I was just "living in the moment" and be damned to anyone who tried to show me otherwise. But as you get older, you start to slow down and give some thought to your actions and the consequences thereof. You look back at your life, and you wonder "What if...."
What if I treated my first woman as just a simple fuck, rather than falling in love and marrying the bitch? Honestly, that was exactly how is started and was supposed to happen-it was just two acquaintances who decided to hook up for a night. But I let the little head do the thinking and ruined a good portion of my life because of it. Well, I probably would not have gone into the military, which means that I probably would not have developed an alcohol habit. There would be well over 100 people who would not have died by my hand or my orders. I figured it out once, when I was in a very black mood-just the confirmed kills in my military career averaged out to one a month. For twelve years! Over 140 people. I stopped traveling down that path very quickly, some memories you think are locked up and buried deep, but in reality, just below the surface is a bubbling quagmire of guilt, self-loathing, and fear. It has been over 20 years, and I still have trouble coming to terms with that particular path. I would not have suffered the first of many broken hearts, nor would I have the health problems (PTSD and spinal injuries) that I have today. I would have spent the majority of my life in a small, rural, farming community.
What if I did not fall in love with books at a very early age? Well, I would not be as smart or intelligent. I would not have developed an insatiable curiousity and quest for knowledge. That quest would not have led me down dark paths and into a methamphetamine addiction and the resulting multiple year prison sentence. I could be happy just being a drone and existing on TV sit-coms, blindly accepting and believing everything that the media puts out there. I would not know any of the thousands of ways there are to separate my fellow man from his hard-earned dollar, nor would I know the inhumanity that man shows to man on a regular basis.
What if I had not decided at an early age that crime pays, and pays very well (the vacations suck, though!), but rather developed a respectable and responsible work ethic that led to success in a career, good money, retirement, and the whole "little house and white picket fence" thing? The first thing would be that I did not spend about 25% to 30% of my life behind bars. I would have had the opportunity to watch my kids grow up from ages 9 to 14 and be a father, rather than "my dad, who is locked up". I sit here, with tears running down my face, and think that I could have been there for them when they needed me. I could have kept my promise to never leave them, and I could feel like a man, rather than a piece of shit. I could have spent my time in a loving relationship, rather than on a path of distrust and broken dreams.
What if. Two very simple words that can bring back memories, resurrect dreams and hopes, or plunge you straight back to the abyss.
What if I had done the right thing, rather than the easy one? If I had started out honest and kind, rather than fearful and under the gun. If I would have taken a stand and just said no. No to the drugs, no to the life of crime, no to the countless pressures that I cracked under. I think that the past 49 years would have been a lot different. Easier in some ways, but harder than in others.
However, what I do know is this-had I not followed the path I did, with all of its pain, hardship, and hurt, I would not have had a wife who has stuck by me faithfully for years, because she believed in me. I would not have two wonderful girls who are in high school (sophomore and junior) and are virgins, do not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, use drugs, or commit crimes of any kind. They get exceptional grades, are smart and intelligent, social, and basically, they are everything that I was not. I would not have an older son who works hard and takes care of his wife and kids. I would not have an older daughter who is married to a decent guy and has a good life.
I would not be in the position that I am in today, which, while not exceptional in terms of wealth or prestige, is worlds better than what I used to be. I have a house, a couple of cars, a bunch of random shit that you collect as you grow up, like tools, furniture, and all of the stuff that makes up a home and family. I have people in my life who love me, and who I love in return.
I have love in my life! I guess it must be true that the prettiest flowers grow in the deepest of shit, because my life was a cesspool, but everything seems to come up roses these days. I still have the same problems that everyone else here has, money is tight and the economy is shit, I love my country but hate seeing these fucking morons in the government running one of the greatest countries in the world straight to hell, and I am very angry with the way that my society presents itself to the world, among other things. But what is new? No matter in what country you live in, I suspect that you personally could say these same things about your country.
I'm happy, which was something I never had for 80% or so of my life. My life has been hard in some aspects, while being ridiculously easy in others, and I have hurt a lot of people (including myself) over the years, but I think I have fixed that now. I have made amends when and where I could, and I refuse to allow the guilt over the knowledge of what I have done in the past to color my current life.
I'm broken inside, and while I can be patched up and kept working, I will never be completely "fixed". I have seen and done too much in my life to ever be considered as "normal", to the point where I don't even know what normal is anymore, and haven't known that for a very long time.
But I can watch my kids and figure it out. I can see how "regular" or normal people are supposed to act by watching my girls, and I can mimic that. At least to the point of being marginably able to function out in public, like in Wal-mart, and not freaking out because of the people around me. I can see how life was supposed to be, and should have been.
I can use all of the vast arsenal of somewhat dubious skills and knowledge that I have acquired over the past 49 years to ensure that someone like me never gets close to my kids and that they never have to go through what I did. I will not-NEVER-allow that! I can spend what remains of my life giving back, to try and repay all that I have taken. I can spend what remains of my life making sure that my kids are smart, courageous, kind, and that they have every opportunity that I can beg, borrow, or steal for them, in order that they can succeed where I have been a failure. I can use all of my strength and knowledge to insure that they never get hurt more than they can bear and that they never have to deal with the same "What ifs" that I do.
What if. What if I had spent the first half of my life being a decent person, instead of playing catch-up for the second half?
Where would I be now? Looking back at my life, I find that it is kind of like sifting through rotten quartz to find gold. There are some nuggets there, and some of them are pretty big, but the majority? Well, it's just....rotten. Throw it back and move on, because this claim has been worked out.
But there is a bright side, if you want to look at it like that! When my depression has hit a particularly deep point and I am beating myself up good, I can at least be thankful that I am a Pagan, because I know that this is not all there is, and I will get another chance in my next life! That still doesn't excuse this life, but it gives hope that there is no true failure and that maybe, just maybe, next time I will do better.
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