Anniversaries

As I continue to collect years, the number of notable annual dates, particular days of the year that are personally meaningful for whatever reason, continue to increase. So, too, are those dates that once were, but no longer are. When I was much younger, my birthday was very important — in fact, in terms of personal annual occurrences, that day was the only one that held any special meaning to me for the first 15 or 20 years of my life. Nothing else that I remember today holds any special place in my memory from my very first memories to around 1980(ish). And, truth be told, I’d prefer to just forego all occurrences of December 6th in the future. Of course, that day will not go away — my 59th December 6th (my 58th birthday) is just a few months away.

As the years have ticked by, other dates have become important to me as well. I was married on Feb. 7th, 1987. I have three boys, each of whom has a birthday. I was divorced sometime in 1990 (I don’t remember the exact date, but there was one), I bought my first new car, bought a house, kids’ first days of school, graduations, deaths — all have a footnote in my personal history, many are attached to a particular date and even those that do not have a specific date, a general time of year spurs a memory. Many of the older ones have faded in detail and magnitude, including the time-memory trigger (my first wedding anniversary is a good example, when February 7th comes around, I usually don’t even think about it), but they are all still part of what makes me who I am.

It seems that this time of year brings up a host of more important and relatively recent anniversaries. I got married again on July 12th, 2012 and that divorce was final on July 9th, 2014 — six years ago today. I remember that, still, because the marriage and ensuing divorce was fairly recent and it was a disaster right from the start. And it was a disaster I not only should have seen coming — I did see it coming, and I did it anyway. I don’t often wish I could “undo” mistakes, but that was certainly one of them. However, I did learn a thing or two, and among the lessons learned actually paid off just about a year ago — another “anniversary” of sorts. I dissolved an almost three-year relationship that was considerably more healthy than my marriage was, however, it was no longer a positive contribution to my life. The lesson? Love is not enough. It alone will not rescue a relationship. The time had come to end it, this time I did so before I did things that would become much more difficult to undo.

But there are other even more important anniversaries coming up. One of them was a direct result of the freedom I experienced from severing that ill-fated marriage — my first excursion to the quintessential motorcycle rally know as “Sturgis.” Officially, “The Black Hills Motorcycle Classic,” in 2014 I went to the 74th annual - my very first time. It was a dream of mine since forever and from the ashes of that marriage rose a near-perfect alignment of the planets that gave me and my Harley the opportunity to go and celebrate freedom. My seventh consecutive Sturgis excursion begins in about three weeks. Although the COVID-19 pandemic will change that experience significantly, the ride there and back (which is at least as important, if not more so) will be largely unchanged and although the four days I plan to be there will be muted, I should be able to ride the Black Hills and keep to myself.

There are two other anniversaries that are much more pivotal. They are not likely to be forgotten even though one of them I don’t directly remember. The first is October 17th, 2000 and the other is August 6th, 2004. The first, almost 20 years ago, is a day that nearly ended my life. In fact, it should have — not could have, should have. Due to a lifestyle will be explained by that second anniversary, I was involved in a wreck that put me in the hospital with major life-threatening injuries for three months, almost half of which I was in a medically induced coma. I don’t remember most of about six weeks of my life and what I do remember is nothing short of weird. The accident was my fault and I am profoundly grateful that I did not kill or seriously injure anyone else. The second anniversary, coming up on 16 years ago, is the date I got clean for good. I have not ingested any mind or mood altering chemicals — no drugs or alcohol — for 5,816 consecutive days.

While all of these various anniversaries are important — not the least of which are my boys’ and grandsons’ birthdays — those two days, almost 20 and 16 years ago, literally made the rest possible. The almost four years between that wreck and finally getting my shit together were a kind of purgatory for me — it was the time between the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning. I got clean for about nine months in March of 2003 only to go backwards at the end of the year. During those four years I experienced medical complications, physical rehabilitation, incarceration, residential drug rehabilitation and the beginning of furthering my college education. August 6th, 2004 was not a good day — I reported to jail to do some time on a probation violation only to report to another jail a week after being released to do some time on the charge that got me violated. When I was finally free sometime in late September of 2004, I was beat, pissed off and hopeless.

I was almost 42 years old and lucky to be live, but I wasn’t really feeling it. I was not and never have been suicidal, but I get how some can feel that kind of hopelessness. I had two choices — stay clean or violate again and go to prison. But I did not see how staying clean was going to get me to a place where I would ever feel “good.” But, I knew drugs would at least make me not care (they stopped making me feel “good” years before). And I also knew that the threat of going to prison alone would not work long-term. I had some recent recovery experience and some recent recovery success, so I tried again, not at all convinced it would work. Day after day, I did what I saw others doing and day after day, without my even noticing, things got better.

In the January of 2005, I returned to the local junior college with a plan. I need just that one semester to transfer to California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) as a junior in the fall. Before that spring semester was over, I was able to look back one day and notice it was a few days since I was angry about anything. While I might not have been “happy,” not being pissed off all day everyday was a monumental improvement. Being angry all the time was fucking exhausting. Also, being clean, focused and motivated had a huge impact on my grades. By the time I graduated from CSUS, I had achieved a couple of 4.0 semesters and my overall GPA at Sac State was 3.83 — I graduated magna cum laude in the fall of 2007. Considering I was asked to leave San Diego State in 1985 with a 0.7 GPA, it is clear that being “dumb” was not my problem. Being stupid was.

Since then, I have gone on to earn a MA at CSUS, advance to PhD candidacy at Louisiana State University (LSU) before using my work there for another MA (a “failure,” but in the world of failures, one that comes with a lot of success). I have had the chance to add other anniversaries like that ill-fated marriage, its subsequent divorce, six and a soon-to-be seventh Sturgis, the acquisition of not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six different Harley Davidsons and many other material items — “things” that I like. The intangibles are more important, however. By just staying alive, I now have four grandsons. However, my career is, perhaps, most notable. When I returned from LSU in the summer of 2015, I applied for a lecturer position at CSUS. While not the tenure-track professorship I planned to be pursuing originally, I am still teaching at the school that gave me the tools to go to LSU and do something I never could in a million years dream possible — doctoral research at an elite R1 university. And now, for the past five years, I have been teaching at the same school that did so much for me. Add another anniversary to the list.

Originally published at https://www.michaelalthouse.com.

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Michael Althouse

Lecturer/professor of communication studies at California State University, Sacramento. www.michaelalthouse.com