Act Four

There’s a feeling of pseudo-emptiness that comes with the completion of a solid Netflix series binge-watch. When you’ve spent weeks watching ninety or a hundred episodes of the same show, following the ongoing plot, growing with the characters and becoming emotionally attached to them, the final credits of the Series Finale, followed by the return of the Netflix menu showing Episode One again seems to almost bring forth a sense of loss, like a close friend has moved away and now you don’t have anyone to share in the sporadic oddities of your day or your completely nonsensical and random thoughts. There’s literally an emptiness.

I’ve felt this emptiness numerous times since coming home from prison, including as recently as yesterday. People don’t want to be my friend anymore because of who I was and what I’ve done. And honestly, I don’t blame them. If the situation was reversed, maybe I’d feel the same way. Maybe not, but maybe so. I don’t know. What I do know is, if I sulk in the loss and emptiness of all the friends I’ve lost, it would literally encompass my entire day. So all I can do is move on – on to the future that awaits; moving on to the next Act.

My wife and I just finished a binge-watch on Netflix of the entire series of “Parenthood,” a 103-episode drama about four grown siblings and how their lives all intertwine with the fateful decisions of living adult lives, professional lives, and the lives of parents. And the four siblings’ parents, played by Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia, experience nearly identical struggles in their mature marriage as the adult children experience in their own, but within the context of their years of experience and deep dedication to one another.

Late in the series (I believe in the final season), Bonnie Bedelia’s character, Camille, tells her husband, Craig T. Nelson’s character, Zeek, that she thinks they should sell their big house in the country suburbs because it had become too much house for just the two of them in the years since the children had grown up and moved-out. And after discussing the move with Zeek, Camille finally convinces him to sell the house, telling him that moving to a new house would be the beginning of the “Third Act” of their lives. In my mind, I envision her perception of the play of their lives together divided into three Acts: Act One would be their marriage before children; Act Two would be their marriage as parents as they raised four children; so Act Three, then, would be their lives together as grandparents.

Teaching Shakespearian drama to high school freshmen wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I was a really good teacher and Romeo & Juliet was a required part of the freshman curriculum, and (admittedly) I learned a lot about drama simply from teaching it. And so I understand how the basic structure of a “play” works. And in the most basic form, the quintessential Shakespeare play typically has five Acts. And for me, as I watched the final season of “Parenthood” and heard Zeek and Camille talk about entering the third (and final) Act of their lives, I began to wonder, what Act am I in right now, and how many will there be?

It was an easy question with an easier answer: I’m in Act Four – but the play of my life will carry into Act Five, just as Shakespeare’s did, I hope. The play of my life began in the spring of 1990 when I was ten years old and decided to play little league baseball. That decision essentially set the path for the rest of my life because the decision to be a baseball player drove my personal desire to grow up as an athlete (as opposed to a musician or actor or dancer or, something). Being an athlete became the nexus of who I was, even leading up to 1994 when I made the decision to switch from baseball to track and cross country. I learned a lot about life during the 90s. I’m a child of the 90s. I love the music of the 90s. I love the movies of the 90s. I love the TV shows of the 90s. For the most part, Act One of my life was the 90s.

But like any drama, the happiness of the early-goings of a play must come crashing down; because, after all, every play needs a plot, and plot is driven by conflict. And so, in the summer of 1998, Act One of my life came to a screeching, dramatic, and painful halt – on a drunken summer night, everything changed; I was raped. I was raped by a guy whom I thought was my friend, and whom I did not know was gay. It mortified me.

And nothing was ever the same after that.

Act Two in my play was the dramatic progression of watching the protagonist slowly and unknowingly (yet steadily) decline. In August of 1998, the curtain for Act Two of my life opened in Emporia at Emporia State University as my days were spent running up and down the white-lined straightaways of the ESU track, and my nights were spent running up and down the cheaply-carpeted halls of the women’s dorms. One year of living that out-of-control faux-fratboy life led to a plot twist: I transferred schools, to a Christian school. But just when you thought that plot-twist would change the motif of the plot, I kept the same thematic bullshit at my new school that I’d had at my previous school: Promiscuity; because as it turns out, Christian college girls are just as easy as secular ones. So essentially, I fucked my way through college with reckless disregard for anyone except my own selfish and subconsciously driven desire (to – as I was told years later by a therapist –  somehow prove to myself I wasn’t gay by having as much sex as possible). In retrospect, my behavior back then makes perfect sense; at the time, I just thought I was lucky and smooth because I got laid a lot.

So when I met my wife and got married, one might think this plot-twist would change the thematic motif of the play, but nay did it do so. Nope. I kept on fucking my way through Act Two, because apparently getting married wasn’t a dramatic enough conclusion to the Act, so it had to keep going; evidently I wasn’t ready for it to end (switching from college girls to coworkers after I graduated and got a job). Someone (or something) would have to end it for me. And then, I became a high school teacher where I carried on multiple affairs with multiple teachers at the school – literally at the school; and a few years later, I decided to make-out with a former student.

I’ve said this before, but I feel this is a point that merits reiterating: Making out with my former student was not a mistake – it was a choice. It wasn’t something that “just happened,” it wasn’t an “accident,” and it wasn’t something I “couldn’t control.” I was a sex addict in full-force, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have the ability to make positive choices. Being a sex addict simply gave me the drive to which I chose to surrender. I never lacked free will – I simply lacked the will to be free. So when I hear people in Sex Addicts Anonymous say they “couldn’t help it,” it fucking pisses me off. I knew that what I was doing was wrong. I simply chose to do it anyway. It’s just that simple because I was just that evil. True talk.

So how would Act Two of my play finally wind-down? On March 9, 2012, I was arrested and charged with numerous felonies stemming from my brief relationship with my former student. And on November 2, 2012, Act Two of my life finally came to a merciful yet fatefully-deserving end when I was led from a courtroom in the Sedgwick County Courthouse, leaving my wife and family in tears behind me as I was escorted out, to Prison. And with the closing of my first jailhouse door, Act Two abruptly ended and Act Three not-so-quietly began.

And thus, Act Three was prison. Prison was when I, the protagonist, began to resolve (to the best of my abilities) the conflicts that had driven the plot of my life for so long; but in the process, new conflicts drove an entirely new plot. In prison, with the help of an amazing therapist, I was able to face the deeply-buried reality of the 1998 sexual assault I endured, and say audibly for the first time, “I was raped.” And oddly enough, that was the first giant step toward coming to terms with what happened and beginning the healing process. In prison, I began to understand and comprehend the fact that I was a sex addict, and I read countless books on addiction and recovery. In prison, I learned just how much my wife loved me, remaining married to me in the face of not only my betrayal and unfaithfulness, but also in the face of the complete and utter humiliation of being married to – me.

Act Three was the shortest Act, lasting exactly 763 days – November 2, 2012 until December 5, 2014. There is a long and winding road (literally, but I suppose figuratively as well) that leads away from Winfield Correctional Facility, the prison from which I was released. Act Three ended when I could no longer see the prison buildings in the rear-view mirrors, making my way nervously back into reality.

This Ongoing Commentary – this narrative of “Act Four” – is the current Act of my life. I’ve had several people indicate to me or to my wife that they read these writings regularly. And to those who do, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You. Writing about my walk through life began as a way for me to cope with each new experience as the curtain of Act Four remains open and the drama plays-out on the stage of my life. But I’ve been told on numerous occasions that people have been reading the multiple entries of this narrative and drawing inspiration and enjoyment. My cousin’s wife told me recently, “I love your writing; you just have an amazing way with words.” At the time, I didn’t indicate to her how huge of a compliment that was, but it literally made me smile uncontrollably. Today my wife told me that someone she knows has been reading this because my life experiences help her understand and cope with some of the experiences of her past. This was an equally wonderful compliment and I am so glad I’m able to, from a distance, be something positive in someone’s life, even if it’s merely through words on a screen. Because the truth is, I feel like I’ve bestowed so much evil upon the world through the selfish addictive actions of my past that I owe it to – someone – God, maybe? – to be a positive part of the lives of those around me, or perhaps even the people I’ve never met, but who regularly read my writings.

So to those who read this, please accept my humble gratitude for your willingness to come with me on this journey through Act Four. Thank you for your complimentary words of encouragement and support, but also know that your encouragement is appreciated exponentially. Living a better life is essential to being a better person, but when people notice – well, that’s truly rewarding.

My favorite play by William Shakespeare is The Merchant of Venice. I first became interested in this particular one after seeing Mel Gibson dramatically portray it during his film The Man Without a Face. And one of my favorite lines is spoken by Antonio when he says, “I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano – A stage where every man must play a part, and mine a sad one.” And for the first three Acts of my life, I think I felt this way as well. But Act Four has become the first one with encouragement and potential, even in the face of the limitations of being on parole, being a felon, being a criminal, and being perceived as some untreatable sicko. It’s ironic (in an Alanis Morissette sort of way) – logistically, my life might seem difficult and even “bad,” but the reality is, the hell that I’ve put myself through has turned me into (as I like to put it) the “best possible version of myself.” I suppose the lesson is simple: Even in the worst of times, the best of times can still happen. My bad choices can shape the way other people perceive me – there’s nothing I can do to change that. However, my bad choices do not have to shape the way I perceive myself. And so, on the stage of my world, the part I play will no longer be a sad one, but rather, one of hope, recovery, humility, and gratitude. The curtain for Act Four is still open, and anything is possible.