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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No Longer a Hopeless Romantic

I've watched, over the years, as many of my friends in high school and college got into relationships and, later, out of them. Some high school friends of mine remained together and married. Some college friends of mine did the same. But the large majority of them found someone, was with them for a few months or a few years, and then found out it wasn't going to work.
A relationship is a lot of work. It's an emotional investment, a physical one (the level of which is totally dependent on how both parties feel), and a time-consuming one. I wasn't ready for such an investment in high school or college, for multiple reasons -- whether that would be my lack of confidence due to how I was the fat guy or my own personal questions about my faith or my own personal demons, I just wasn't there.

I wasn't there when I lost the weight over two years ago. I wasn't there this time last year, even though I tried.

It wasn't for lack of wanting -- oh, I wanted plenty of things -- but I simply didn't understand fully what I was asking. There was a key cog that wasn't there or a neuron misfiring or a thought process that got hung up. Something was missing. I don't know what, but, whatever it was, it just simply didn't exist.

Up until this November I considered myself a hopeless romantic because of my past. A card carrying, lifelong member of a fraternity of fools who believed that love was more important than anything and that it would conquer all. That belief isn't wrong, but the hopeless part? That was wrong. That's the wrong starting point.

Let me explain. During that crazy month of November I was hired at the job I currently work at (seasonal job at Target with decent hours). I dated an intelligent, witty, cute girl who, by all statistical measurements, should have turned me down on the first date. But she didn't and, in a week's time, she taught me a lot.

And then she broke it off. But something she said to me, the night before she broke it off, has stuck with me since. She told me not to be a hopeless romantic but, rather, to be "hopeful." That didn't mean much to me then, but it stuck in my craw after the break up.

Since the break up, I've thrown myself into the Catechism and in that, one thing has been reaffirmed to me over and over and over.

God loves us and, with his love, there is always hope.

That's a tough truth to swallow for me, not because I find it inherently false but because I find it hard to believe that there's hope for me. Hope and I ... we don't get along well. I tend to hope for things but don't get them. I think this is a fallacy on my part as I'm mistaking "hope" for "want" and when I don't get what I want, I feel burned.

For a week, brief as it was, I had hope and it was an absolutely beautiful feeling. It was a feeling of warmth that I hadn't had in many, many years. I can honestly say that, for that week, I was happy. I had forgotten what happy was.

And, as I continue to read the Catechism and learn, I find that there's hope for me in Christ. Yes, it's a trite phrase, isn't it? Sounds like I'm reading out of a pamphlet but something was proven to me in that one week; there was hope for me.

I have become more convinced of this the more I read and learn about the faith I'm calling my own. I am the unofficial-official-converting-Catholic and I'm not going to be unofficial after this Easter. I will, officially, be Catholic.

Right now, my lessons in the Catechism are focusing on the sacraments and their applications to the lives of Catholics. The Catechism, up to this point, has put off diving into full explanations of the sacraments because there's a lot there that needs to be built up before you attempt to understand it.

But I'm there now and, quickly, an explanation of the one sacrament I want the most is approaching: the sacrament of Matrimony.

It's no secret that I firmly believe -- and want -- to be married one day. I think it's my vocation, I think it's what I'm called to do. Realizing that hasn't been hard -- figuring out how to do it has been the issue. And, for what it's worth, I think I have arrived at some conclusions.

Surprisingly, these conclusions seem to be supported by Catholic teachings.

1. There's no need to rush.

Catholicism -- and other faiths -- throw out this word. It's "discernment". In short, it's the process one uses to come to a decision, taking into account the spiritual side of things, as well as the practical side of things, and looking to the faith (and God) for an answer.

The point of dating is to find the one you're to be married to (which the cute girl I dated for a week in November pointed out as well). Well, if you're going to be dating someone you might marry, you should take time to consider it. By my nature I like to analyze (and overanalyze) things, so this isn't a problem for me. I waited a few weeks before asking the cute girl out and it turned out all right.

2. Don't obsess. 

This one is easier said than done for me. I like to obsess. I like to overanalyze because it's just how I work, so not obsessing is tough, but as my best friend recently pointed out to me, the best things are unexpected. The last few years of my life prove this and my brief dating relationship in November also proved this. I wasn't actively, obsessively looking for a relationship -- I didn't want to be in Alabama in the first place, I wanted to get out as soon as possible. Yet, I found a girl that I liked and she liked me back. And it was random.

3. Pray.

It's seems stupid, especially to the logical side of me. Offering up prayers to a God about something like this. This isn't a practice I've done for more than a few days now and, yes, it feels weird. It's not like God and I dish on relationship gossip -- he's all knowing and such, so why does he need me to tell him what's going on when he's got a pay-per-view feed into my life 24/7?

Yet, the Catechism has driven home in the last few lessons how important prayer is. And, through various articles and comments I've read from this website, the idea that I should be in prayer over this very important issue doesn't seem so foreign to me. I pray about other very important things in my life -- the health of those I care for, the strength to make good decisions, the state of my soul ... why not pray for my hypothetical-future-theoretical-wife?

"It's presumptuous, for one," you say. Okay, I don't disagree with that -- it presumes that I do have a wife out there, somewhere and, yes, it presumes that we'll find each other in this life. Lots of presumptions, I grant this.

But, BUT, if I'm right -- which, being that I've had it in my head since 10 that I should be married, I think I am -- shouldn't I be devoting some time to this?

Yes, it's crazy sounding. It's weird to think and to utter aloud. Part of me feels like it's really dumb, but when is prayer ever a bad idea? I have days when I think that my prayers do more harm than good, I admit that, but even my doubt has to give way to reality: the reality, as I was unexpectedly informed the other night by a friend, was that people are praying for me just as I pray for them.

I was told I was being prayed for. Not just by my friend, but my friends friends (whom happen to be priests) and by their friends. Strangers I don't know and have never met are praying for me.

If they can do that for me, I can do that for someone that may only exist hypothetically.

4. Be Honest.

I'm not good at romance, let's be frank. In the one week experience I had in November, I was forgiven a lot for my shortcomings in that department. But I didn't try to be suave or overly confident -- I was honest with her that I didn't know what I was doing and I was a complete noob (and, as we all know, being a noob sucks).

And you know what? She didn't hate me for it. In fact, I think it was a good choice even if part of me doubts that (the part of me that says, "If only you'd been better at the romantic stuff you'd still be together!" and some days that part of me is hard to shut up).

Honest is the best policy and it's hammered home, repeatedly in the Catechism and in various online sites, that honesty is very necessary for a good relationship. It's a virtue and, going forward, I'm going to strive to continue to grow that virtue. Maybe it'll result in failure and, if that's the case, so be it. I can fail as many times as I need to at this. It's important enough that multiple failures isn't a bad thing to me -- it's not a desirable thing, but it's not bad.

5. Take a Shot.

I took a shot with that girl and it worked. It shouldn't have worked. It shouldn't have done anything except result in failure but it worked and I'm just as shocked as the rest of the world that it did. It was a risky proposition, one that should have resulted in an immediate failure and, instead, it gave me something that I will cherish.

I'm risk averse by nature, so I needed proof. I got that proof. I'm fairly certain that was God's way of saying, "See, Zach? You can put yourself out there and have success, you just have to try." It won't always work, of course, but I needed a success here. I got one. I don't think it was a reward so much as a bit of evidence to prod me into being less of a coward.

It worked.

6. God Has to Come First

I saved the biggest one for last and that's for the simplest reason there is: God is the source of all love. He started it, it's all his doing, from beginning to end. He showed us the ultimate love and that truth has been abundant in my life of late. Heck, it's been abundant in my life since I hit the low-point of desperation over three years ago. Every day since it has been abundant, it has been abundant in the forgiveness others grant me, in the trust others place in me, and in the love that is shown for me.

And all that love starts with him. I lose track of that a lot. It's so easy to say, "Well, person-x loves me" when that capacity to love, that ability, is granted from God.

The Catholic faith is based on love. The Bible is a story about love. Not a love that we can comprehend, mind you -- we try, we put it into words, but our understanding of it is minimal at best. Our expressions of love in this mortal life pale in comparison to God's expression of love he showed for us from day one.

And, so, God has to be at the center of it all. He doesn't have to be in neon lights, shining down from the sky. Your car, bed, room, ect doesn't need to scream "GOD" in big, bold letters that shower sparks and glow in the dark.

God doesn't have to be loud. He doesn't need to be. He works just as well in the quiet corners of our life. He works on us, little by little, day after day. You need to acknowledge him, yes. You need to remember him, yes. You need to honor him, yes. You should do your best to do all these things, yes.

You will fail to do him justice, just as I will and every mortal being before or since, yes. And God will forgive us for that failure because he loves us. His forgiveness is infinite. It doesn't mean we should take advantage of it and go wild, but we shouldn't think we're doomed when we sin.

We sin all the time. It's, unfortunately, our nature.

And, even in a relationship, that has to be acknowledged. But, in the same breath, you have to acknowledge that God will forgive. His is the ultimate expression of love and, as human beings, we are commanded to model ourselves after that ultimate expression. We will fail more often than not.

We are commanded to get up and try again. We are commanded to love as God loves and show a love of God to those in our lives, especially the ones we're involved with. Especially our spouses.

How can we show that kind of love without studying it? Without acknowledging it? Without letting God's example guide us?

Simply put, we can't. So, God has to come first. It doesn't mean you walk around with a shirt that says, "GOD FIRST" or that you constantly quote scripture or Church teachings to back every decision you make.

It does mean that you consider what the Lord would do in your stead, what the Lord would say or think. It does mean you look to God and say, "Hey, what would you do?"

And sometimes you'll get a hard answer. Jesus got a hard answer when God said, "You have to die in the most painful way imaginable." And we'll have days when we get hard answers.

Like Jesus, we'll have to accept those answers and trust.

Trust in God's plan. Trust in God's mercy. But, most importantly, trust in God's love.

Thanks for reading, folks. God Bless.  


Monday, December 29, 2014

Closing the Distance

Distance is a strange thing. It doesn't just apply in a physical sense, it can apply also in an intangible sense too. Right now, tangibly and intangibly, I've got quite a bit of distance between me and my goals, but not as much as where I was nearly three months ago.

If you recall, I was sent packing, tail between my legs, from my preferred location in Northern Virginia back to Alabama. It wasn't a pleasing experience on multiple levels -- the leaving, the turning in of my house key (I still miss the jingle), the tire blow out in Tennessee (and subsequent unscheduled overnight stay), the repairs to my car ... the list goes on. Circumstances dictated my exit, circumstances out of my control and out of control of those around me.

I ended up back in the Catholic deadzone that is the South and I was certain I would follow the same path everyone follows when they end up back here: stuck. Central Alabama has a way of doing that to people, though why I'm not sure.

But I'm not stuck and yesterday at work, after doing a bit of math, I realized I had secured the minimum seed money I needed to get out of the South. I had done it in two months time (as opposed to the three I estimated). I had done that while diving into the Catechism, while making a few more repairs to my car, and while not stressing out of my mind.

I've managed that and, over the past two days, I've been reminded that there are people waiting for me back in Northern VA. Family and friends who haven't forgotten my existence (and even a few children whom I was sure wouldn't miss me all but they remember me, too). 

It doesn't seem so far as I sit here today. It seemed like a chasm was between me and my goals when I got back here in October, a chasm that just couldn't be crossed -- my car was limping around, my pride was wounded, and my bank account was hurting. Now, I can see the other side.

And, as I look at the other side, I have to question a few assumptions I made when this journey started (and my journey is infinitely more exciting than the Hobbit's, I'm sorry to say -- Peter Jackson, take a break from Middle-Earth).


1. I'll make a good Catholic. 

Diving into the Catechism as I have has shed some light on things that I do that simply shouldn't be done when I become a Catholic. Quite frankly, I commit a lot of mortal sins on a daily basis and I'm only aware of a few of them. I question whether or not there is such a thing as a "good" but I definitely don't qualify as it stands right now.

For one, I'm poor at remembering all the Holy Days of Obligation -- I should have gone to Mass on Christmas but I was focused on just getting to the celebration my family was having in Florida (and the three hour drive to get there). I tend to forget to do some of the things in Mass (like kneeling before getting into the pew or the thing you do when the priest reads the gospel).

That's not to say I won't get better at it -- I will. I will absolutely get better at it because I'm better at it than I was when I started this over two years ago (good gracious it's been a long time) but I don't know if I'd make a "good" Catholic. I think my starting point is decent and I should work my way up from there.

2. That I'm not clueless about relationships.

I am totally and completely clueless. It's a fact. I had a brief, awesome week where I was involved with a great girl that showed how clueless I was. No amount of research or observation could have prepared me for how good (and right) that week felt.

This was probably an assumption I should have junked as soon as possible, but I thought I could do decently based on everything I'd researched and observed over the years. Not true.

Still, it was a learning experience (I hate to just call it that but it was, at the minimum, that) and I picked up some things that I hope should be applicable during my next relationship.

3. That I'm a lost cause.

I'm not, actually, and you're probably just as surprised as I am. I set forth goals and they were ambitious to say the least. I wanted to get back to Northern VA, I wanted to stay there, I wanted to be Catholic, and I wanted all that done by Easter. It's a pretty steep list of things when you consider how I failed to stay in Northern VA despite being there on three separate occasions, how I've missed being confirmed last Easter, how I keep missing opportunities in general.

But here I am, within sight of the goals set forth. It doesn't mean I'll accomplish them by the date given, life can throw a curveball my way and wreck all this -- I still need to find a place to live up there and still need to find a job up there, both things that will be challenging to do (especially during the early part of this upcoming year, where jobs that were around for the holiday season disappear in a puff of smoke).

Even more than that, I was lucky enough to have a pretty girl by my side for a week in November (and she liked me for being ... me!) and I proved that I can be in a relationship and not completely fail at it (even if the sample size was for only a week).

So, I'm not a lost cause. It's refreshing to know for once.

4. That I'm forgotten.

It's easy to feel forgotten, even in this digital age we live in where I can call/text/Facebook/Email anytime I want. But distance is distance, even with the Internet bridging the gap, and the people I care for in Northern VA feel worlds away from me some days. But over the last two, I've been reminded that I exist to them.

I like to exist. As much as I don't like the spotlight, it's still nice to know that I'm remembered and people are thinking about me, even if it's only a mention here and there. No one wants to be forgotten and it's especially difficult to feel not forgotten during the holiday season.


In conclusion, I'm not far away from getting back to where I want to be. I'm coming back. The dreaded fourthquel is approaching but, like Star Trek IV, I'll blow expectations out of the water (come on, let's be serious, who thought a movie about whales and without an Enterprise would really do that well?).

I'm studying. I'm preparing. I'm working at it.

It's all I can do right now and that's just fine. 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Suiting Up

So, today I went to get a new suit. This has been on my "to do" list for about two and a half years. Ever since I lost a 133 pounds and went from fat me to thin me (still weird to think that way and be referred to that). The last time I wore a suit I was in a size 40 at the time (in suit pants, anyway. I was still in 36 with jeans).

That suit can't possibly fit me anymore, so I went down to where I grabbed this suit in the first place -- the store is in a new building now, and it's run by different people, but it still has a great selection of suits at rather modest prices. 

Upon entering the store, I was greeted by the sales guy, and I promptly explained to him that I had no idea what I was doing as far suits were concerned. We tried on jackets first, just to determine what looked good, and I told him what was suggested to me and what I was looking for. 

I really, really wanted to grab something like this, just because it'd be awesome to have it. 

Sure, pinstripes were suggested as something I shouldn't get, but David Tennant pulled it off and, blast it, I think I can too. We weren't able to find a suit that quite looked like that or the blue one that Tennant always wore, but we were able to come up with a silvery one with pinstripes that I really, really took to. 

I spent nearly two hours trying on suits, trying to decide what style I liked and what things I wanted.

But the most interesting part of this adventure wasn't getting the suit, but the older gentlemen that was getting his suit tailored. The gentlemen, upon seeing me try on many suits and asking many questions, offered his hand and introduced himself. 

His name was George and, upon shaking his hand, George told me this. "I can tell by your handshake that women take advantage of you and men push you around." He smiled at me and then added, "But I can also tell you have a lot of integrity and a vitality for life. You just need to push back a bit, toughen up."

Not an introduction you get very often, right? George is in his late 50s, is a Navy veteran, and just recently lost 82 pounds thanks to karate. George and I hit it off (even if I was a bit stunned by his proclamations about me). I told him that I lost over 100 pounds about two years ago, and he was super-pleased by that.

George was a big fan of fist bumping; he did that a lot.

Anyway, George advised that I take karate from his instructor and told me that I just needed to be less kind; that it was okay to push back, it was good for people and good for me. I countered that I wasn't a push-over (at least I didn't think so), and that I was accommodating, but George was adamant that it was the same thing.

George was impressed that I had a job (even if it was Target, he told me it was good that I was working and not unemployed -- any job is better than no job), that I had lost over 100 pounds, and he told me he looked forward to seeing the change in me a year from now. We exchanged phone numbers (because when a random stranger introduces himself and reads you from a handshake you just do that, right?) but I don't expect to actually hear from him again. 

But his words were strange to me. I was there to buy two suits, things that looked good (or at least decent), hopefully to use at events in the future. Hell, maybe even to wear on a nice date (holding breath ... now). 

George's words made me think, though. Am I too accommodating? Is George right and I need to "toughen up" and "push back"? I'm not sure. It's never been in my nature to be the "bad guy". I'm not a hardass. Do I stress about things? Sure. But I try to make sure the people around me are good and taken care of. 

I don't see this as a bad thing. I don't necessarily think that being "nice" is a bad thing. I've never gotten the impression that "women take advantage of me" and "men push me around". I can be a stubborn SOB when I want to be. 

I wonder, though, if I should be tougher. Would me being tougher be more attractive to women? I don't know. Me being me worked for about a week in November with a pretty girl I liked. It ended, but it ended on good terms, but me being me worked. 

I think George made some sweeping assumptions. I don't see my kindness as a weakness or something that is lacking. But it's interesting to know what someone else thinks from the outside, even if it is a bit unflattering. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Can Writing Help Save Your Soul?

I'm participating in NaNoWriMo 2014, and since last Sunday I've been killing it. I nixed the project I originally started working on (a sci-fi story that was a bit like Star Trek) and jumped back into my original fantasy fiction project, something I've been trying to complete for over three years.

I've made a lot of progress on it (up to 18K), but an observation has occurred to me as I've written: I'm making pretty good decisions. Not just in-story but in life.

And so I'm forced to ask: Can writing help save your soul? I struggle, like everyone else, with making good decisions on a daily basis. I'm human so my natural inclination is to screw up repeatedly, blame someone else, and keep screwing up. We're all wired that way.

I make an effort NOT to blame others for my mistakes and blame myself, which isn't a great thing all the time (it has drawbacks as a strategy, I grant this) but I feel like these last five days, I've been hitting things right. Doing things right.

And, on reflection, I feel like this is a trend and not a random occurrence. I've had other times when I've been on ridiculous writing tears (that one time when I stayed up for two days straight to write down 22K worth of material for a project that will never see the light of day but made me happy all the same) and, while writing, my decisions just seem to be better.

I'm wondering if that's a common thing or just a me thing (the possibility of it being a me thing is high). When I'm writing as I am, knocking out at least a chapter a day and developing characters (and backstories -- I have an addiction), I just tackle life. Work has been going good, my food choices have been good (the scale shows progress, finally), my personal decision making has been good, my soul feels good.

I realize I'm human and have been sinning every day over the last five days, but I don't feel like I've chosen to sin as often. I don't feel like I've made a choice to disregard what I know is right to do what I know is wrong, just for the short-term benefits.

I just want to get done with work, chores, bills, life, and get back to writing. I hold that up as my carrot and it's worked pretty well so far.

My other thought on this is as follows: if writing can help save your soul, maybe that's why the saints did so much writing. It seems like every saint did some writing and maybe this is why, maybe there's something inherently good to it, I don't know.

I just know that, while writing I feel good about the decisions I make, seem to think with a clearer head, and just seem to be "in the zone" so to speak.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Swimsuits, Sad Balloons, and Wedding Nights

*Brutally honest post follows. Be forewarned.*

I hate wearing swimsuits and I  was remind why when I had one of those "Holy crap, what happened here?" moments as I was looking at myself in the mirror this morning.

I start every morning the same way, without reprieve. I can't not do it (even on vacation). I wake up, use the bathroom, and weight myself on my scale. Yes, the same scale I bought (at $40) when I originally began my weight loss journey back in July of 2011. It's been over three years since and my scale has had a few scares (notably a time where I thought it died in February of 2012) but it's still around. It's seen me at my highest weight (273+) and my lowest weight (138) and it sees me now.

This morning I woke up, stripped down, and analyzed myself. As I do every morning, probably compulsively. It's probably horrible for me, but I like to keep track of the data. I keep a tally in my head, I reflect on images in my mind, I even take pictures with my phone if I find something that stands out and needs to be compared down the line.

The analysis of this morning wasn't favorable: I started a new job a little over a week ago and, predictably, my weight has shot up a bit. I'm a little over 150 as opposed to being a bit under it (in the 147-149 range) before my job. I chalk that up to poor food choices (store discounts are the devil) and a new sleep pattern (which is erratic due to the hours). Things are out of whack on my end.

And this morning was the first morning where I saw my stomach and thought to myself "That looks worse" in quite awhile. I saw it and immediately felt hatred and repulsion.

I put those feelings down quickly, though, and instead focused on what was different. I skipped dinner the night before in an effort to undo some of the damage from earlier in the week, but the results were not as good as I expected. I was disappointed by that, disappointed in myself.

I'm slipping. I can feel it, just a little, and it's the worst time of the year to slip. I've got to be in control during the holiday season. The three worst food holidays are near: Thanksgiving (gorge yourself to sleep day), Christmas (presents and cookies!), and New Year's (I swear I'll work this off after today).

I slipped up last year. And the year before. It seems inevitable and my weight has crept up to where it is now after my low point of 140ish. Now, some have told me I look better and that it's a good weight for me.

Personally, I don't like it. I'd rather be under 145 than above it, and I'd certainly rather be under 150 than above it (even slightly so now). My clothes still all fit fine but I see the difference, I feel it. I hate it.

Over the summer I attempted to lose more weight in a last ditch effort to get rid of the sad sack of loose skin that sits around my stomach. I wanted to get to 128 where, by my calculations, my body fat percentage would have been low enough to finally tighten up that area. But that effort met with failure as I was unable to drop below 145, my body having gotten used to that weight thanks to my previous holiday failures.

And, this morning, I was confronted with the reality that there was no way, at my current weight, that I'd get rid of it. That reality was confirmed in early October in a frank conversation with my closest friend and I'm still not okay with that. I'm a little okay with it, but not all the way.

The above illustration is a perfect summation of my day as I've been hovering around this issue in my mind, from my own feelings about myself, to a character's feelings about herself, to the feelings of others about themselves (at work and in my own life).

I've blogged about it in the past here and here. They basically say similar things.

And this post will probably be in that vein. But the subject matter is important to me because I want a solution: not just for myself, but for everyone I know who wishes their body was something better. Who, because it's out of their control, can't change their body to what they want. Fate or circumstance or God conspires against them.

I can make no such claims, sadly. I did this to myself. I became a giant fatass, I lost the weight really fast, I caused my body to react the way it did. I didn't listen to others, I pressed on stubbornly, and my reminder of all this stares at me in the mirror every day.

It sucks, I won't lie. It sucks worse when I try to do a pushup and watch as the skin hangs like a sad balloon. It's horrible looking and I'm worried; scratch that, terrified of what a woman might think seeing it.

It hangs there and that's going to be an issue when sex comes into the equation. I'm a virgin (at 26 ... only 14 years away from 40 ... I terrified of that, too) and have so little experience with women that a third grader likely has more. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know when I ever will (or if it's even possible).

But, theoretically, hypothetically when I do meet that woman who is able to see past my numerous flaws and put up with me, we'll get married.

But what happens on the wedding night?

I won't be winning, that's for sure. Sex, as I understand it, is the physical/emotional connect of a man and woman. And that physical side of it can be done in a number of ways (Kama Sutra anyone?) but, as I understand it (and correct me if I'm wrong) there's the basic it "One atop and one on bottom" positioning.


So, if I end up on top ... well, we get sad balloon hanging down.


Okay, so it's not a great thing to think about and it's WAY in the future (I hope?) but it's still a consideration that has to be made and, as it stands right now, it's ugly. I've spoken to people who have had surgery for the loose skin such as mine, and the results are not as I hoped: it solves the literal problem, but there's still scarring there (unless you pay for SUPER good surgery which, as one would expect, costs a ton).

So ... surgery is out of the picture and it's just me and my loose skin right now.

And I don't know what to do. I want to try and lose more weight, get skinnier in a vain attempt to kill it. If I can do that, maybe it finally tightens ... maybe it finally dies.

But that's fantasy, not reality. Working out has strengthened the muscles under it, but not to the point where the loose skin goes away: it only hangs slightly less.

What on God's green Earth is a woman going to think about it when she sees it?

"Hold on Zach, if this theoretical woman is your wife than she's going to love you no matter what," you say. True point ... idealistically. But, is that really the truth? I've admitted that, should I find a wife, I'd like her to care about her health and take care of herself. The body is a temple, remember?

At the same time, I have to hold myself to that standard.

"So, you'd judge her harshly if she had the loose skin issue like you?" you ask.

And to that I say ... no. I'd get it if that was the case but here's the thing: so few people have done what I've done and most who have are married or in long-term relationships and did it partly for their partners.

I did it for myself and I did it as a last-ditch effort with desperation fully in play. Losing weight wasn't a noble thing for me, it was a very selfish thing and I really want to say that, because I lost the weight, I have used my physical improvements to improve the lives of others but I can't be sure that's the case.

The point is, if I were a woman in this situation, I'd be a bit repulsed by sad balloon loose skin.

I know I'm repulsed by it, so why wouldn't a woman be? We're physical creatures, us humans, for better and worse. We interact with our world and each other physically and I can't for the life of me justify anyone interacting with me in a sexual fashion with my hanging loose skin. It's just ... ugly.

Which is why I want a solution so badly and why I'll desperately attempt this weekend to lose weight and try to reach that supposed solution, even if it's a total fantasy that borders on delusion. What else can I do? What other actions are there to take?

I understand what this is and what it represents ... and I hate that I understand it, I wish I could naively believe that a woman would see past it and not care but how can you not care about something that's going to be so very apparent on a wedding night?

Maybe it's too deep a question to put out on the Internet. Maybe it's too deep a question to even ask aloud but I want to know, I want it out there because the solution may be out there. Someone may have it.

I don't and I'm sorry I don't.

Thanks for reading. God Bless.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What September 11th Means to Me

(This is my recounting of 9/11 and what it means to me, in great detail. Possible triggry things here.)

September 11th, 2001. It was a Tuesday. The day before had been parent-teacher conference day, my first one in my 7th grade year. In January of 2001, my family and I had moved to Alabama from Mississippi, the supposed "last stop" of my father's Air Force career. Mississippi had been the "last stop" too until it wasn't. I was a skeptical 12-year-old (soon to be 13) preteen.

Parent-teacher conference day was a boring and embarrassing affair. My mother went and took me along with her (as that was policy in Alabama for some reason). I had to sit there and listen to my teachers talk about me in the third-person, even though I was sitting right across from them. They didn't have anything bad to say about me, in fact they were very pleased with my performance so far.

It was still embarrassing to have to hear it, though. After we got done, my mother and I returned home. To celebrate my good grades and reviews I got a Sonic milkshake -- vanilla. It's funny how the little details stick with you.

Tuesday was any other day. I woke up that morning and had my breakfast, a bowl of Quaker's cinnamon oatmeal. I read the sports section while simultaneously criticizing my first little brother on his poor math scores. I proceeded to be a grade-A dick to him by asking him math questions he wouldn't have an answer to, which frustrated him.

I got chewed out by my mother when she finally made her way downstairs after dressing my two youngest siblings (my four-year-old little brother and nearly two-year-old little sister). I rolled my eyes and shut my mouth, my mother dropped us off at the bus stop and then we rode to school. Our mornings started at 6:15 those days and none of my family (minus my father) are morning people. As much as I wanted to sleep on the bus, I refused the urge. I had an English test I didn't have to study for but my English teacher, Mrs. Eutsey, glowed about me: she was notoriously difficult to impress according to everyone in my school, so I didn't want to slide in her eyes.

I got to my junior high around 7:30 that morning. I headed to my first class, Civics with Mrs. Mays (that woman who could tell a yarn that would last all class period -- and we let her because we did virtually no work as she spun her tale). The junior high was old -- really old. It had originally been the new high school built in the mid-1940s. The junior high was ancient, hallways and everything, but each classroom had TVs hooked into the wall. Admittedly, the only thing we ever watched was some stupid news program produced by children which had a budget less than anything on PBS (and one annoyingly high-pitched girl who was the main anchor. Her voice absolutely killed my ears.).

We got other channels, but it was against school policy to turn the better channels; I half-suspect that the a few of the teachers had been caught watching ESPN (notably the sports coaches who taught science) and the policy had been enacted because of them.

Whatever the case, Mrs. Mays' class began like any other day: she took the chalk, scrawled in her nearly illegible writing our assignments on the board, sat down in her chair, and then we tried to bait her into telling a story within the first five minutes of class: if we could, we'd be guaranteed virtually no work. If not, we'd complete our minimal assignments pretty quickly. We operated on a seven-block schedule, so it wasn't as though we had to sit in any one class too long, but getting out of work was always preferable.

It was around 7:50 that things got weird. Mrs. Mays tended to keep her door shut during class but an office-aid came in and delivered her a handwritten note: usually this meant someone was getting sent to the office, but no one got sent anywhere. Instead, Mrs. Mays propped her door open. There was some hustle and bustle in the hallways, Mrs. Mays stepped out to talk with our principal (who later that year would resign from his position) and then, around 8:00, she turned on the TV.

She turned it to CNN. The image of the World Trade Center, with dark smoke billows coming out of it, came on the old CRT TV. I could read -- we all could -- and the bottom line of CNN confirmed what we were seeing. Now, the only reason I knew what the World Trade Center was at this point came from Godzilla (1998 version); the newscaster in that movie compared the destruction Godzilla was wreaking to the World Trade Center bombings some years past. The Twin Towers held no more meaning to me than that before 9/11.

We watched, in silence, as the bottom line scrolled and witnesses came on the air to describe what they saw. By all accounts, it seemed like a tragic accident. Who would fly a plane into a building on purpose? No one, that's who. It didn't make any sense otherwise.

And then the second plane hit. I don't know if the other stations figured out that the second plane hit quicker than CNN, but for a few minutes after the second explosion occurred CNN was saying that a part of the first plane, buried in the tower from the impact, had ignited and exploded. But we all were watching the TV and we all saw a second plane fly towards the towers before the video cut out briefly, then an explosion.

(The entire CNN broadcast of that day in on Youtube. I could link, minute by minute, what we were seeing, but I certainly won't.)

CNN figured it out after those first few minutes that it was a second plane. They kept saying it could be a navigation error, that something had to have gone wrong. Hopes, that's all those were.

We didn't get any more work done in that class. 8:45 rolled around and we transitioned to our next class: for me, it was English. Mrs. Eutsey declared our test postponed, CNN above her. I went to the library to return my book, as it would be overdue the next day. It was Black Beauty. I was on a horse kick for some reason. I dropped it off, came back, and found everyone staring up at the screen still.

It was about 9 when the first tower dropped. There was a guy on the roof, with the twin towers in the background. I have no idea who he was, still don't know to this day, not even sure he still works there. But he was on the roof, with the twin towers smoking behind his left shoulder. By that point CNN was saying it was no accident, that it was a terrorist attack more than likely, and he began referencing the OKC bombing, as well as the previous terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

They cut to the Pentagon, showing it damaged and smoking. Then as the reporter there was telling what was going on he was interrupted; CNN cut back to New York and where the second tower was now there was only huge plumes of smoke and a new round of sirens screaming through the air. Thirty minutes later watched, live, as the North Tower collapsed. "Good Lord," the reporter exclaimed. Up to that point he'd been calm, collected, he'd been doing his job ... and then that.

That was when I knew. When it hit. This was going to get worse. There were audible gasps in class. Tears from my teacher and a few others. I was standing in front of her desk, trying to get clarification on a grammar question. I'm pretty sure I was the only one trying to do work at that point. I'm not sure why.

Lunch was silent that day. The cafeteria was separate from the school, built behind it. We walked there in silence. We ate in silence. Few conversations were even attempted as everyone was watching the TV in the cafeteria. Eyes glued. We were in the middle of Alabama, a bunch of preteen punks, and even we knew what we were watching was every kind of bad that it could be. Nothing got better. CNN just kept giving us worse and worse news.

The TVs were turned on for the rest of the day, in every class. It was the only time I can ever remember every door, to every class, being open. Everyone looking up at the screen and no work being done.

When my brother and I returned from school, the TV was on Fox News at home. My mother was there watching it quietly as my little sister napped on the couch right next to her. My little brother was painting on the table, something he was very messy about and usually would have my mother supervising him. Not today.

I chucked off my backpack and stood behind the couch, reading the bottom line, listening to the reports, watching the constant replaying of everything that had happened so far. My father got home early, around 4PM and he sat down in his blue armchair, didn't even bother getting out of his uniform (which would normally be the first thing he'd do when he got home). We didn't really talk much. What was there to say?

I asked who would do this. My father simply said, "No one good."

We had leftovers for dinner. Roast beef from the previous Sunday.


The next day is really more of a blur than anything else. It was already a weird week, since Monday we had off and the day before was the first school day for that week, except on a Tuesday. The TVs remained on, but muted. It was eerily quiet all morning. The only thing you heard, really, were footsteps. By lunch people began to talk again and the guys I ate lunch with were all in agreement that if another country had done this it meant it was time for all-out war. They were a bunch of rednecks who liked shooting guns, so it wasn't exactly a profound statement on their part, but it never occurred to me.

War. The word is small but means so much. My father was in the Air Force. He had avoided the Gulf War the first time around. Would he be able to avoid this one? This would be the one fear I carried for years past 9/11, up until he retired in 2006. Before I worried whether or not my father would come home with news about us moving. After 9/11, I worried about him coming home with news that he was being shipped out.

Was it irrational, possibly unfounded? In retrospect, probably. My father's back and knees were not in great shape and what he did wasn't exactly "go to war" material: he was, and still is, a computer geek for the Air Force. He analyzes and evaluates software for various different tasks, does some coding, runs numbers: not exactly conducive to being shipped overseas.

But at the time, I was pretty worried.

The immediate aftermath of 9/11 was stunned acceptance of the reality that my world was unsafe; that it was dangerous, that it could end in a fiery explosion, that our military -- impenetrable, unbeatable, the best there ever was -- could be beaten. Not by a nuclear bomb or ships, not by a great war but by people on weaponless planes.

Things changed by the beginning of 2002 for my school life. The junior high, run-down and slated for destruction in the near-future (so the school board kept saying) had security cameras installed. Two new security officers were hired. School board polices were enacted that made us have see-through/mesh book-bags.

The nearby Air Force bases saw massive defensive construction begin; barriers were erected, multiple checkpoints were installed, ID card checks were longer and more rigorous. It would take years before all the changes were completed, nearly a full decade, but they were started very quickly after 9/11.

When I reached high school in the fall of 2003, it wasn't much different from the junior high. Same polices, same security cameras, more security officers. By that point, though, it had been nearly a full-two years since 9/11. The school let us get away with some things, mainly the use of book-bags that weren't clear or mesh.

In the summer of 2005 I got a chance to visit New York with my church youth group. It was a big event and my first time ever flying on a plane. Airport security was a pain but the flying was fun. I was the official trip videographer and I did an absolute horrible job at it.

I was 16 and full of myself. I hadn't yet learned the golden law of camera work, which basically boils down to "Shut up and keep the camera on the action". No, I was self-important and liked to hear the sound of my own voice (which sounds a lot worse on tape). I was a dumb, teenage punk.

But I visited Ground Zero. Tried to sound self-important there, too. If I could, I'd punch myself from 2005 and I'd make it hurt. As it is, the video below summarizes my thoughts on 9/11 then. The church in the video, after Ground Zero, was absolutely beautiful. No idea what type of church it was or even what its name is, but the place was ... serene. That's stuck with me since.


 9/11 was the Pearl Harbor of our modern world. In the years after, the day has taken on a mournful, sad tone. It's deserved. For the nearly 3,000 people who died and many more who suffered directly/indirectly due to the attacks, the day will never be anything but one of anguish.

It was -- and still is -- that for me to a certain extent. For the last few years, since I discovered it on Youtube, I've watched the CNN coverage of that day. I don't need to. I remember it very well. Out of all the days in my life to remember, that one is the one I'll likely never forget. I watch the videos of 9/11 and I cry. I don't cry at many things, but I cry at that.

But in recent years 9/11 hasn't just been about the sadness, the anguish, the grief. It hasn't been just about all the bad that has happened since. In my life, at least, good things have come from it.

I know, it's probably blasphemy of the worst kind to say that. Much like Pearl Harbor, all anyone tends to remember about 9/11 is the war, death, and the cultural shift that came after. None of those things are viewed in a good light and none of them deserve to be. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have done more harm than good, one could argue -- and it wouldn't be an argument I'd oppose. The number of people that have died because of those wars, because of the people who perished on the planes, in the towers, those first-responders, those who were harmed by the debris and fallout, those families that were left alone, those kids that never knew their parents ... it staggers the mind considering just how far-reaching 9/11 was. We will feel the effects of that day for the next 100 years, easily.

But 9/11 isn't about what did happen for me: I can't deny what happened. No one can (even the loon conspiracy theorists). It's about what didn't happen for me.

In 2001 I wouldn't know that my best friend would just narrowly avoid being on one of those flights. I wouldn't know the amazing things her friendship would bring into my life. I wouldn't be able to call her family my own, even if we're not blood (and even if some people have issues with that).

Without her, I would guarantee you I wouldn't be here today. She served as my example, my motivation, in getting control of my health and losing all 133 pounds of me that I didn't need. She was, and is, an inspiration to me.

She's still here and because she's here, so is her family. 9/11 didn't take her away from me and, though it's incredibly selfish, I'm very thankful for that. I wasn't deprived of her life-changing friendship and I could have been.

I'm thankful that 9/11 didn't send my father off to war. No matter how likely or unlikely it could have been, it was still a possibility. I could be without my father today, like many I know, because of the wars that followed 9/11. I am not.

9/11 opened my eyes to the world and the dangers it holds and, strange as it sounds, I'm thankful for that too. Yes, the last of childlike innocence disappeared that day like many things in the USA. But it was necessary to teach me how valuable that innocence is and how precious it should be to all.

As selfish as it is for me to find a sliver of a silver lining in that day, I can't help but be grateful for what didn't happen. Maybe that makes me a bad person (which wouldn't surprise me) or maybe I'm beginning to realize how much more that day can mean. I'm not sure.


We're coming up on 13 years now; half my life almost. I remember what the world was like before 9/11, at least my small world. My youngest siblings do not. The day is a day that lives for them in the memories of those older, in the depths of the Internet (where it'll forever be), and in history books. 9/11 is a sad day but it's not a personal sadness for them, but merely a shared sadness amongst a group; like when a friend loses a cat on Facebook.

You feel bad for them, you don't want it to happen to you, but you don't feel it personally (unless you've lost a cat yourself, but for this example let's say you haven't). It's hard to empathize when you don't have a frame of reference. My siblings don't have that and their generation doesn't, really. Their classmates/friends have no idea what that day was like.

The children I know that were born post 9/11 treat the day like it's part of a distant past, like it's something you see only in old movies. As I played war games when I was a kid and pretended to storm beaches and shoot Nazis, some of them pretend the same with 9/11. It's shocking, saddening, infuriating, horrifying, and distraught-inducing all wrapped into one.

It's just a date to them, it didn't even happen in their lifetimes. Much like Pearl Harbor didn't happen in ours.

As a country, as a people, we made a mistake with Pearl Harbor. Dec. 7th, 1941 means nothing to a lot of people in the modern age. But to the generation that was around for it? It was their 9/11. And we forgot it. We made it a date in the history books, we made it fodder for Hollywood, we made it into a set piece to be moved around.

Why isn't Pearl Harbor a national holiday? A day of remembrance? I don't know the answer to that. It's always bugged me, especially after 9/11. Some have told me that it's because Pearl Harbor was a military base and so what happened that day gets lumped into Memorial Day/Veterans Day. But that's not really fair I feel; civilians died as well, people suffered that receive no recognition.

9/11 is heading down a similar path. It deserves to be a national holiday, one of remembrance. Unlike Pearl Harbor, we won't have the luxury of forgetting about it; the Internet will forever exist and hold that day in a time capsule for us. We have, much like Pearl Harbor, devoted ample space and time to honoring those lost with memorials. With museums. With testimonials of their courage and bravery.

We've also turned that day into Hollywood fodder, something that took many years post-Pearl Harbor for that era's America to do. Not so much for us. Turning something into a movie isn't necessarily a bad thing, but movies are primarily vehicles for entertainment; I find nothing entertaining about 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, but if there wasn't a market for the product it wouldn't have been made.

It's probably too late to get Dec. 7th made into a national holiday and, really, it isn't about getting the day off from work. But I feel like this is what national holidays are best served doing; allowing a nation to collective reflect on life-changing events. Much like my thoughts on Arlington, I feel as though Lincoln, Washington, and MLK would gladly do away with their holidays to pay proper respect to those lost on 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.

I don't know how best to communicate to future generations what 9/11 meant to us. What it signified. Words seem small and inadequate (despite how many I'm pouring out here), video seems too distant without context (a context they can't possibly possess because they don't remember what it was like before) and erecting museums/memorials, though noble in intention, will only result in them becoming tourist attractions and school field trips.

It's only been 13 years and we can't even figure out how to explain to those that have come since what happened. For all the technology and knowledge we have, the biggest news of this week isn't going to be 9/11. It's going to be about Apple's new smartwatch and their bigger smartphone. It's going to be about the NFL's negligent actions in the Ray Rice matter. The week isn't over yet and more things will come up, more things will overshadow 9/11.

Already it's becoming a date in a history book despite how many of us are left to tell.


I think, more than anything, that's the biggest obstacle about 9/11; our reluctance to share it with those who weren't there. It's a collective wound that everyone who was around, who remembers, has. We're all hurting still. We were hurting when we came together immediately afterwards, when we put aside our differences and united as this country hadn't since Pearl Harbor.

And eventually the hurt won out. We separated, not long after we came together, and things became divisive. That's the biggest difference between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor; the 1940s didn't allow every citizen of the country to express their individual thoughts and feelings at a moment's notice. In the 1940s, people exchanged those thoughts and feelings in smaller settings, at dinner tables, churches, work, bars, and similarly smaller community-ish places.

Our differences in beliefs, in actions, tore us asunder and made our hurt worse. Now we can't just share it with others who were there; now we can only share it with those who were there and feel similarly to how we feel. Our perceptions of all the things that happened after 9/11 have affected how we talk about that day.

For all the victories we've achieved since 9/11, from the eventual justice brought to the madmen that orchestrated it to the freedom we fought hard to win in countries far away, we still have yet to overcome the hurt. We've yet to figure out the way share it with those who have no idea what happened and we've willingly cut ourselves off from those that don't agree with us about the actions that were taken by our country in the aftermath.

We suffered as one country and we can only heal as one country, in my opinion. But such a healing process has yet to take shape and I doubt it will for many more years. We've all dug our bunkers now, we've fortified our walls, and we're content to try and fix things with the group/groups we identify with first before reaching out to the other side.

I wish that wasn't the case.


I don't know where the future will take us as a country. Right now it seems like we're on the verge of tearing apart and the world seems to be on the verge of doing the same. Things seemed simpler before 9/11 and they were, to an extent. The veil that was draped over the nation's eyes about worldwide affairs was collectively lifted after that Tuesday and never will we have a veil over our eyes again.

I can't begin to fathom how to explain to my possible future children what this day is. I'm at a loss as to how to describe to them everything that ended when the sun set on September 11th, 2001. I don't think anyone was fully aware at how many things just stopped being after that. We couldn't have known.

All I know is that, right now and probably for the foreseeable future years, 9/11 will be a day of profound sadness on my part. It will also be a day of gratefulness for the people and things I didn't lose.

To those that have lost and suffer still, I can only offer my sympathizes and my ability to listen. We're all hurting on some level, some more than others, and there simply isn't any way to undo that. There isn't any way to magically make it disappear or to forget. We remember. We know.

It is that memory and that pain that we all share. I hope one day we can use it to bring us together and to heal one another.

Until then, God Bless. Thanks for reading. 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Year is Nearly Over ...

And there's only about four months left. But there's so much to do. If anything has been drilled home to me over the course of this summer, it's that my timetable for things never goes according to plan. Here's what I have left to do and my thoughts on it before the year is out.

1. Convert to Catholicism

"Still?" you ask. Yes, still. I'm in the process of, actually going through RCIA as we speak. It's slow. It's methodical and frustratingly so. The book given to me to study and work out of is so small and I can blaze through that puppy in a day. Instead, I'm going lesson by lesson at a crawl.

I wish it was faster but I understand why the pace is slow. It's a lot to learn, even if the book is small, and the deeper insights are where the real work is done. I get it but I'm frustrated. Nevertheless, I'm taking the opportunity presented to me through the RCIA process to dive in to other Catholic practices, putting them into action with other Catholics my age.

But then there's communion, where I continue to be among the few, if not the only one, to sit in my pew as just about everyone else around me goes forward. That, by far, is THE most frustrating thing out of all of it. I realize I'm not Catholic and don't qualify for it, but every time it happens I feel like the guy in the room that's highlighted. That's the biggest turn off of my "put things into practice" method ... but that's the way it is.

2. Lose Weight

"Still?!" Yes, still. The summer has been kind to me and I'm back down to last summer's weight of 145. Am I glad? Absolutely. It's nice not to see the scale in the 150s anymore after a long winter of woe. But I've run the numbers and seen, first hand, what a lower weight on a similar (to myself) body looks like and it looks WAY better than what I'm at.

The new goal is 128 pounds, which means I have a little over 17 pounds to lose. I'd like to get this done before the month is out but that's unlikely. My self-control has been okay but not great, especially with how social I've been these past few weekends. I've failed to adhere to things but haven't paid horribly, thankfully.

But in order to knock my body fat percentage down to 12 percent and try one more time to get rid of the unsightly loose skin, I must go this far. It's not terribly low, but it is lower than my initial projection of 130. Whether I can succeed in this endeavor at all is a valid question, as seeing I've never been able to get my weight lower than 138 (two summer's ago) and that seems an awfully long way from 128.

Still, I have to make the attempt.

3. Learn Etiquette

It has come to my attention that I look uneducated at the dinner table with the way I do things. From my utensil usage to my body posture, I come across as a slob. I'm pissed about it, no doubt, because it's yet another flaw in the long list of flaws that I need to correct in order to be even a remotely decent human being, but this one is going to be a hard flaw to correct.

Much like losing the 133 pounds I did prior, this flaw has a long history and is built into me. I really, really don't care about it that much as it pertains to me. But I do care how others perceive myself.

Still, there needs to be real consequences attached to this and I can only come up with one strategy to successfully teach myself how to do right: by putting the meal on the line.

I've decided to embark on a simplistic "three strikes and you're out" system to teach myself how to do this. At every meal I will judge myself (and have others judge me if they so wish) on proper table etiquette and my performance therein. If I mess up three times, whether by holding a fork incorrectly, misusing a knife, propping my elbows on the table, or leaning over the table, then I lose my right to eat.

Essentially, I either perform correctly at the table or I don't eat. With a meal on the line, I should quickly be able to develop better habits. If not, I lose the right to eat, in which case that'll help my weight loss cause.

It's a win-win situation, really. It may not be pretty in the early goings, but it'll be effective.

4. Learn How to Dress

Men's fashion is a lost cause with me, perhaps. I've been attempting to try and work out some way to figure out what works for me and what doesn't, and I feel I have a decent grasp on it, but I'm not where I should be and my wardrobe is rather limited. My fashion sense is more like an inkling mixed with a guess.

I've stuck this one lowest on the priority list for, depending on my success in losing weight, the needs for it might change. As it stands, I'm satisfied that I'm okay with it, but as seeing that I'm lacking in other areas, I can't justify the effort to be better at it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Summer of Skin

Today I spent the majority of the day disassembling someone else's room and rearranging it to be my own. Part of me felt then, and still feels now, that this is some strange form of trespassing. Part of me believes that this is is going to karmatically bite me in the tail at some point in the future.

But this was a necessary move and, for the first time in years, I'm sleeping on a bed tonight that isn't a twin. It's a full and, my goodness, did I forget how big beds are. Or maybe the bed seems so big because I haven't slept in one this size since I was 273 pounds. I used to sleep in a queen then and it seemed small.

The full I'm laying on now? Like a freakin' wide swath of land. I have no idea what to do with most of it, but like many things, I imagine I'll get used to it. In the midst of all my moving and hustling up and down the stairs, I realized I had misplaced something.

My swimsuit.

I only possess one to my name at this point. I'll probably never have a large collection, not because I don't like to swim (I do, a lot), but because they seem to last a long time. Then again I used to always have to upgrade to a new swimsuit every other year due my increasing girth, but that's not an issue anymore.

Well, it sorta is. Leading up to the beginning of this summer I was attempting to lose weight again, to get back down to 145 but in truth to aim for 130. That seems to be the magic number for saying goodbye to the loose skin that still bunches up around my stomach. It's unsightly. It's ugly. And it absolutely shouldn't be seen by anyone in my view.

My best friend recommended to me a few months back to get a surfshirt. Something to throw over myself and to hide my loose skin until I can deal with it. But I don't like the idea, simply because it seems wrong. This is summer and it's the absolute worst time of the year for any insecurities about one's body.

We all have them. I do. You do. Everyone I know does. No matter how flawless or amazing someone's body seems to be, they hate theirs like you hate yours some days. It's a fact of life and one that we all too readily deny. I deny it because that's the way it works.

It's summer and it's time to put ourselves on display. The surfshirt thing feels like a cop out, not because it's an illegitimate solution, but because it's just not fair. Everyone else -- especially women -- are pressured to show off their bodies during this time of year. Bikinis are worn up and down the beach, at the pool, at the lake, wherever and we guys can get away with just tossing on a pair of swimshorts and a surfshirt and be fine.

It's wrong. If we expected all men to wear speedoes during the summer and thought it was all right for women to wear whatever we wanted, would us guys be all right with it? Hell no. It wouldn't happen. You'd never see commercials with men in speedoes for big retail stores, you wouldn't see men in speedoes posted on billboards driving into towns, you wouldn't see them on magazines or parading about in public ... no.

We make it okay to objectify women because ... why? Profit? A cultural understanding? It's so ingrained in our culture at this point that women objectify each other now (and perhaps they always have to a certain degree but I feel it's just ridiculous now with the ads everywhere).

And all this brings me back to ... well, me. And my weight. Because it's at 152 and has been for weeks now. Just doesn't want to budge it seems though I'm trying. I've upped my sleep, cut back on my fluids, slightly upped my carbs, I'm exercising more, and generally playing as smart as I can. And I'm still stuck.

I want to be back at 145 at least before this month is over with, but the month has roughly two weeks left now. Last night, as I was restlessly tossing and turning, the dreaded thought came over me that maybe this won't happen by the end of the summer. That I'll still be here. That I'll still be staring at the horror of a past life in the mirror every day.

And it dawned on me as I was looking for my swimsuit today, nearly freaking out because I couldn't find it, that this must be -- in some ways -- what women feel like during this time of year as they try to achieve personal goals to make themselves look better. For whom, I wonder?

For myself, I'm doing it to kill the loose skin. Even though I know it very likely won't and I'll very likely be crushed when I fail, I'm doing it primarily for that. Secondarily, I'm doing it so I can look good in a swimsuit, so I don't have to feel like a reject as I do stuff in it.

It was told to me, this past month, that after a certain age women become irrelevant. That they have to work on themselves and their bodies in order to maintain any relevance. I had no counter argument, for the woman who was telling me this was right. Personally, will she lose her relevance to me ever? No. Never. She'll be at least as amazing (and likely more) as we our friendship continues years down the road.

But will she be irrelevant to society? Yes. The world will move onto something younger. Something "hotter" or "sexier" or "thinner". You don't have a long lifespan if you're a woman in this world in that way.

But I'm a guy. I get to matter forever. You can sit there and rattle off multiple names of men in their 50s, 60s, 70s that are still considered "hot" or "sexy". There's a significant gap in terms of relevant lifespan and there shouldn't be.

I'm in the prime of my life. I'm absolutely in the best shape of my life (despite my higher weight, I still fit into all my clothes and do it well) and only getting better in my view.

But I will never be hot or sexy. I don't think I have the face for that or the build or really even the potentiality. I am distinctly lacking in that area and part of me is very disappointed by that. As a guy, you want to be seen as attractive to the opposite sex.

I can honestly say I'm probably not (really want to say I'm absolutely not but I'll bet there's an outlier somewhere).

But I fear what others think of my body. I hate what I have to see. I actively try and change it.

I will not hide it under a surfshirt. I will not hide it anymore at all. (Don't scroll down if you don't want to see).

There's me. Apologies, but a visual representation was needed. As you can see, it's not pretty. That's what I'm trying to kill and that's what I refuse to hide. If it's acceptable to judge people during the summer, women especially, on their bodies then I can't try to skirt around the rules.

My stretch marks are clear. My belly-button is deep, my skin has a roll and hangs sadly there. It's ugly. But it shouldn't and won't be hidden. That same right isn't afforded anyone else, so it should not be afforded to me.

Thanks for reading. Hope the rambling made some sense. God Bless.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Relationships Are Life

I've been thinking a lot over the last four nights. Sleep hasn't come easy or well. I got five hours one night over the last four days and that's been the max so far this week. My mind's stuck in multiple debates, none with any easy answers (or perhaps any answers at all) and I'm struggling to identify where the answers might be.

I know what set me off: Arlington. I visited that hallowed ground Sunday and witnessed some profound grief from those who were there to visit their friends and loved ones. So often in life we're reminded of what we take for granted in comparison of what someone else has lost.

In my case, I was reminded how easily I accept the relationships I have in my life and how easily they could come to an end. It doesn't take much to snuff out a human life. For all our technological and medical advances, we still don't understand death. We still don't understand why it occurs or what purpose it serves in the cosmic scheme of things. Sure, we understand how people died: finding the cause isn't the issue.

The issue is why did they die. What's the point?

I've been wrestling with this for days and I have come no closer to any definite conclusion. I've reached out to my favorite priest (though, admittedly, he's only one of three I know so it's not like it's a honorable title or anything) but he's been wicked busy this week and I don't foresee us meeting up so I can ask him questions.

I've turned to Catholic teaching, which there is plenty of on the Internet, but that has left me equally unfulfilled. The answer I'm looking for doesn't exist in this life.

But what does exist is our relationships with other people. Friends. Family. Boyfriends, Girlfriends, Husbands, Wives. I think, out of anything else on this planet (including ham and cheese, as well as cheesecake) I will miss that in the afterlife (whether heaven or hell or purgatory). I don't think the rules we know will all apply in the afterlife.

Certainly I don't think I'll be able to look down from heaven, drink wine, and snark with my best friend as we watch college-aged kids do college-aged kids stuff. Pretty sure that's not there.

So, with my mind obsessing over relationships and the many different ones that exist, the question came up (quite early on) about which one is the best. What's the best relationship you can have? For as many people as you ask this question, you'll probably get just as many answers.

But for me the answer is quite simple: a relationship between yourself and someone you're in love with (and who loves you in return). That is the founding principle on the greatest and toughest of things in this life, that of marriage (again, all of this is my opinion, but bear with me).

I'm not discounting other relationships as being less, but human beings want companionship and they want it in the form of a significant other/spouse. Being best friends with a person is one thing, but there are some barriers that cannot be crossed in that role. There are things I can't do (despite being confident I could do them) and aren't my place to do in my role as a friend.

But in one's role as a significant other/spouse, the barriers are practically nonexistent. I'm not nor have I ever been either of those things, so I don't know for sure what the key is or where the permission is given to exceed those barriers. I just know, from observation and the experiences relayed to me by others, that such barriers don't really exist.

Out of all the relationships that can exist, that kind has the fewest limits. You can go the distance and dive into another person at a level that can't be matched anywhere else. That's what makes it so appealing and so demanding. Becoming involved with a person in that manner is a commitment of significant resources on multiple fronts.

Which is why, I think, Arlington so messed me up. Those people there who looked upon the graves of their loved ones, a lot of them lost a significant other/spouse and I absolutely can't imagine how devastating that is. To give yourself so fully to another person and to have them do the same, only to lose them to never see them again ... it's inhuman in a lot of ways. To ask someone to carry on like that when such a large part of themselves is missing is hard.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm probably the most inexperienced person you could ask about this. But what I lack in experience I make up for, a little, in observation. I've seen relationships between significant others/spouses break down and end. Sometimes quickly, others time slowly and almost always badly.

Just two days ago a friend of mine, who had just gotten into another relationship after having her last one end badly after many years, posted this article on Facebook. I read it and came away surprised that these things had to even be said ... but then again, with the way people treat these types of relationships nowadays, maybe these things really needed to be restated again.

I'll list the qualities here and my thoughts on them (and how the qualities apply to myself) as we go along, but a lot of this seems fairly "no duh" to me.

1. Honesty -- but not too much of it.

Basically, be honest about everything in your life to your girl, except appearances (which the article recommends you just let lie about cause we all look horrible sometimes and I completely agree with this).

I don't know why lying to your girlfriend/wife ever seems like a good idea but it's more commonplace than I'd like to admit with my male peers. Somewhere along the line, fiction supplanted the truth as the thing to tell the person you're involved with. Not sure why, honestly, but lying to someone you're in a relationship with is the quickest way to wreck things, IMO.

2. Understanding -- that way she doesn't feel the need to explain herself.

Strive to understand her. I feel like this one is probably one that needs to be repeated more often and loudly. I know a lot of guys who are involved with their girls and don't have nearly the understanding of said girls that I do. Whether that speaks more to me and how observant I am, or to the guys and how clueless they are, I don't know. Some guys just don't want to put forth the effort to understand women because women are amazingly complicated.

That's what makes them so amazing to be around, IMO. Simple isn't sexy. More men need to put forth the effort to understand the ladies they're involved with. I think a lack of understanding, a lack of a deeper connection on an emotional level, is what ultimately brings down relationships involving significant others/spouses.

3. Caring -- she needs to know she matters to you.

Pretty straightforward, right? Not as straightforward as many would like to think. People communicate caring differently and in a relationship, I feel like both parties are going to have to figure out how the other communicates caring. For girls, caring usually means listening to her and giving her a shoulder to cry on ... showing her support unwavering at all times.

For guys, they perceive caring as taking some form of action -- usually something physical, kissing or touching or sex. Men aren't usually wired to sit and listen for hours on end, but there are a few out there (I'm one of them I think ... either that or I have a much better attention span than I've given myself credit for).

4. Strength -- both physical and mental.

Women want to be in the presence of guys they find attractive. Based on what I've seen (and the sentiments are echoed in the article), women find men who are intelligent AND in good physical shape attractive. They want to be able to hold a conversation with you where you'll actually talk instead of just sitting there and nodding along.

The physical stuff is pretty self-explanatory. I doubt a woman wants to be with a dude who couldn't defend her if it became necessary.

5. Compassion -- show her you're capable of loving.

I think this falls in the same category as caring and understanding. No one likes a hardass, even if you're a complete stud of one. Being a mean cuss isn't going to enthuse anyone. I agree that guys are taught that compassion is a weakness and that being tough is preferable, but acting like an ass gets you nothing.

High school and most of college proved that to me. I was an ass. I got nothing.

6. Security -- financial and literal.

This is probably the one I take the most issue with. Having the guy be the breadwinner and bring home all the money is an outdated idea: in this world, you're both likely working and you're both making money. Financial security is a team sport nowadays.

Admittedly, I take the most issue with this because this is a weakness of mine. I don't make a lot of money so being able to provide financial security ... that's not a qualification I meet. I don't know if it'll ever be a qualification I meet.

Literal security I can absolutely readily provide. I'm in the best shape of my life and my capacity to protect is high.

7. Blind loyalty -- she wants to be the only woman he has eyes for. 

As guys, we suffer from wandering eyes. We're visually stimulated and wired that way and we suck at ignoring that part of ourselves often. For as far as men have come in terms of being civilized, we always have eyes and those eyes can get us into trouble.

Self-control, however, is something that guys lack. It's encouraged by society and the media to not practice self-control: why deny yourself something you can have easily? Most people don't bother denying themselves and what ends up happening is that people get hurt.

Guys cheat. Girls get cheated on.

I believe firmly that if you have an understanding of the woman in your life, if you truly get her, then you're going to have blind loyalty. Because, though I can't claim to know for sure what being in love is (I believe I have been in one situation but how do you know for sure if it was never meant to be?) but based on my feelings and findings, you should only see the person you're in love with as the one for you.

Other people may be prettier. Other people may be skinnier. Other people may be younger.

But there can't be another like the one you're in love with. Being in love is more about loving the soul, the character, of the person in question more than anything else, IMO.

Which brings me back to relationships. They are life. Without them existence doesn't matter and they are the foundation of everything you do. Marriage can't survive without a relationship between husband and wife. Family can't survive without a relationship between parent and child.

The best things in life are based off relationships.

Remember those people who have lost their relationships. They had what you have and they will never have it again. Take care of your relationships and the people in your life. If you do that, you should be all right in the end.

Thanks for reading folks. God Bless.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Memorial Day

I had the honor to visit Arlington National Cemetery today. I was with my closest friend, who was visiting one of her closest friends, Landon Jones, who had tragically lost his life in an accident this past fall. His co-pilot, Jon Gibson, also died in that same accident. These two served our country in the Navy. Both left behind wives and children who go on without them.

Normally, I wouldn't mention people by name. But in this case, I will, because they need to have names. They need to be more than just numbers or references.

Arlington National Cemetery has over 400,000 graves. Some with bodies. Some without. All of these graves represent a person who gave their life in defense of this nation. I realize that in this modern day and age there isn't a whole lot that Americans can agree on. We're at each other's throats over gay rights, abortion, religious freedoms, healthcare, and a multitude of other things.

But if there is one thing we should all be able to agree on, it's that the people who died defending our country should be held in high regard. That those they left behind, whether it be wives, husbands, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, or brothers ... those people should also be held in high regard. Those who died and those who continue on without them, those people should be honored and thanked every day of our life.

We, as a country, fail to do this. Especially on Memorial Day, a day that is designed for this. It's become a holiday, much like Christmas, where any greater meaning has been lost in the sales. In the tourism.

There were a lot of tourists at Arlington today. I understand they have to keep the funding going somehow and I get that this is the least of the bad solutions, but it's disconcerting to see people happily snapping pictures next to signs with the cemetery's name on it or grave markers with military personnel on it.

I saw a lot of people jogging/running through the cemetery like it was a track.

It's wrong. We've forgotten what this day means. Millions of men and women have given their lives to the cause of this nation and we've given them a day. Only a day. Think, for a moment, what we've given other people. Presidents Washington and Lincoln get a day. Martin Luther King gets a day.

Millions of Americans who died defending our freedoms get only a day.

The math doesn't really work, does it? Washington, Lincoln, and King all were pivotal figures, no doubt. Not a single one of them would have mattered without the Americans who have lost their lives in the trenches. In the fields. In the jungles. In the air. In the sea.

Washington, Lincoln, and King would doubtless agree with me. Not a single one of them ever had an inflated self-worth. They never elevated themselves above anyone else. The people after them did.

We, as a country, have made a critical error. We've elevated the wrong people. We've idolized the wrong people and in the process we have criminally under-appreciated those Americans who have served (living and dead) and who are serving.

We've turned a blind eye to them and rendered those that have passed from this planet an afterthought.

I was able to meet a few of the survivors today, specifically the wife and mother of Jon Gibson. They, like my closest friend, were hurting. They were grieving. They were shedding tears. They had a hole in them that I, and everyone else, was incapable of healing.

And any other day of the year, they are invisible. Forgotten about. But on Memorial Day Weekend, they are recognized for what they've lost: A human being, a husband, father, and son, who brought joy into their lives. Who gave them love and received love in return.

But we blissfully ignore them when it's not this weekend. When they don't walk around with bright red shirts or bows or ribbons or badges declaring for all those with eyes that they have lost. They have sacrificed.

And they are hurting so greatly. I could only offer them a few words, a hug, and a kind touch. That's it.

Nothing, really. We owe them so much more as country, as a people, and we refuse to give it to them. We sit here and debate whether people who work at McDonald's deserve to make 15 dollars an hour, but can't be concerned about how our veterans are being treated. About how their families are being treated.

We forget and we do it, more or less, on purpose. We'd rather not think about it, perhaps out of guilt or shame. This is not a victimless crime and yet we do it. Every day.

We, as a people and nation, need to do more for those who are left behind. For those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. For those that serve in the military today and in the future.

Millions of Americans who have died get one day out of the year. Millions who have served get another day out of the year. Two days for millions of people who have undertaken one of the greatest causes you can ... who defend our freedoms and our rights and they don't know most of us.

They sacrifice time. They sacrifice relationships. They sacrifice their health. They sacrifice their lives.

And we ignore them most days of the year.

It's time to make those left behind and those who continue to serve visible, not invisible. It's time to give them credit for all they do. We owe them that.

It's not about the BBQs or the weekend. It's not about getting time to catch up on movies or do yardwork. It's not about getting a holiday.

This Memorial Day, don't forget to remember those who sacrificed and who are left behind. Don't forget to remember that they are people and not just numbers.

Landon Jones and Jon Gibson were husbands, fathers, and sons. They died for our country. They have left behind wives, sons, and daughters. They have left behind fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. They have left behind friends and family.

We can't fill the hole they've left. But we can remember them and strive to take care of those they can no longer care for themselves. If we are truly as great a country and people as we claim to be, this is the least of what we can do.

Thank you to those who have sacrificed so much for myself and my loved ones. Thank you to the families who have lost so much. I can never repay you. I can't heal your wounds. I can't stop the pain.

But I can remember.

God Bless.