A Good Man's Departure
April 21, 1999, 2:35 a.m. - It's been a long four days. In the last ninety-six hours I've crisscrossed the country, traveling to five states, and have only been able to steal seven hours of sleep. I pride myself on a strong work ethic, but now my body is on the verge of collapse. What began as a slight quiver last week has now become an uncontrollable seizure of my right hand. I've been able to hide it in public by casually placing one hand on top of the other or making a tight fist behind my back until the tremors pass. But now in the nearly freezing weather of Northern Ohio, for the life of me I cannot steady my hand so I can insert the stupid key into the doorknob of my motel room. After three attempts my patience erodes to the point that I begin mumbling a string of off-color language to the howling wind. Huffing, I slide off my computer case, which contains my hefty laptop, and my worn overstuffed satchel from my left shoulder. Steadying myself, my left hand gently clutches my right one just below the wrist and, after another few stabs with the gold-colored key, I'm finally able to fling open the door to my humble room.
I've been on the road for twenty-one days, with another twenty-three days to go before I can catch a glimmer of my fiancée's face, capture the fragrance from her long auburn hair, let alone hold her by my side in the middle of the night. Looking up at the darkened sky I search to find the North Star, knowing that my teenage son, Stephen, is somewhere on the other side of the country in the middle of a deep slumber. He's about to begin baseball season. How I love to watch that boy play. I can visualize the countless times Stephen would be up at bat, and how I would stand behind the batting cage as if I were him, a child, living an endless stream of days filled with wonder. I'd dissect the grip on Stephen's blue-colored bat and how he would twirl it in the air like a helicopter, his body positioned to hit, and the way he'd shake his little butt. I'd always burst with excitement whenever I heard the distinctive crack from the bat as the baseball sailed deep into the lush green field. I never really had the chance to play baseball as a kid. My thoughts begin to escape me, but I instantly slam that door shut. The intensity of my career coupled with my self-imposed mental compartmentalization is protection for me. I do so by remaining rigidly focused when out on the road. I know from past brief lapses that if I let down my guard for even a few moments, I will cry a river of tears from missing those I love. I also place a great deal of responsibility on myself that borders at times on anxiety--worrying about oversleeping or missing a flight, driving hundreds of miles in the middle of the night with bewildering, mind-numbing directions, or my biggest fear of not "being there" and not giving my absolute best to so many folks who invite me into their communities and organizations.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month and I dedicate myself to this cause by traveling from one end of the country to the other, working with teens and adults to help them focus on harvesting their inner strength to overcome a horrendous past, praising those who protect and work with those at risk, and providing all-day workshops on the psychology and resilience of this subject. Today my day began at three in the morning, taping a few radio interviews over the phone, before studying for my eight-hour workshop. Then with the program completed, books signed, and encouragement offered to those struggling with difficult situations, I raced to the airport, completely exhausted, changed clothes in the confines of the airport bathroom stall, and hopped on a plane, arriving just in time to speak at a fund-raiser for a local Boys & Girls club, before catching my final flight of the day in order to start all over again and drive somewhere in the middle of Northern Ohio. As always, when my adrenaline fades it's instantly replaced with a crushing force of exhaustion. At least now, whenever I make my midnight trek, I have sense enough to drive with the air conditioner on, the windows rolled down, and the voice of a local radio talk show host ranting at full volume. Being on the road over two hundred days a year, I have an intense fear of falling asleep behind the wheel ... again. The last time I nodded off, God must have been watching over me. At full speed and with me dead to the world my rental car crossed the median. I awoke just in time to gaze up at what looked like a pair of headlights belonging to some gigantic UFO about to make contact with my car. Through sheer luck and stupidity, I mashed down on the accelerator, missing the semi truck just enough that the car shook from its wake, while I emptied my lungs chanting, "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!"
Reprinted from The Privilege of Youth by Dave Pelzer by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Dave Pelzer, 2004. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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