Welcome to Unwritten's part of the worldwide A-Z Blog Challenge!! Every day in April (except Sundays), we'll have a new post related to the letters of the alphabet from A-Z. Our theme here on Unwritten is "I Will Survive". I hope these stories will inspire and uplift you. Comments are VERY appreciated!
J is for Journey
S. Hampton Sr.
When was the last time you took a good look at yourself in a mirror and asked, “Who are you?”
When was the last time you did that? And when you asked such a question, what did you see in the mirror?
Life is a journey regardless of whether you accomplish your goals or realize long-held dreams. Perhaps accomplishment or realization are only side benefits to the journey—perhaps it is the journey itself that matters the most. The journey that, at certain points in time, bring you to a realization of self. At points in your journey, you are a different person physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The journey includes uncharted paths that you tread by yourself, perhaps in the company of family, relatives, and friends, or perhaps in the company of a loved one with whom you have started your own family.
Let me explain.
When I look in the mirror I see someone who, by the media standards of today, is physically ugly and growing older. Believe me, I am no Val Kilmer or Johnny Depp or Christopher Walken. Ah, the fact that they are Anglos and I am a Native American, probably helps explain that.
I am approaching 60 years of age.
Since the age of 15 I have wanted to be a fiction writer. I finally became a writer in 1992, though I did not begin being published on a regular basis until 2002.
I wanted to earn a living from my writing and, later, my photography. Nope. I have not accomplished that yet. But I do find satisfaction in telling stories and having them accepted for publication.
I joined the Army because I did not see a real future for myself in the Oklahoma town I was living in. That led me to meeting my wife, which led to my own family of a daughter and two sons. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last (the divorce was lengthy, bitter, and spun me into financial ruin, in addition to leaving me with a healthy contempt for lawyers and the courts). But our children, in turn, created their own families and as a result I have over a dozen grandchildren who I love very much (the first was born in 2000, not long before my 46th birthday). And, I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up.
That too, was a surprise, because I did not really want to see age 50 and beyond. Both of my grandparents, who raised me, suffered from Alzheimer’s, or dementia, the more popular term may be. I saw my grandmother succumb to it first. That was frightening to a teenager whose family was coming unglued due to the disease and economic straits. The last time I saw my grandmother she looked like a survivor from Auschwitz. That filled me with a fear of nursing homes and growing old—thus, the desire not to see 50 years and above.
My grandfather, once a small business owner, was reduced to sweeping the sidewalk in front of a hotel in the mornings for a donut and coffee. The owner treated him like shit. Alzheimer’s came for him a few years later.
As for how I came to be raised by my grandparents—let us just say my family history was not the best. I refused to speak to my mother for almost 30 years. We reconciled 10 years before she died.
How did the reconciliation come about? It was because of a woman.
Not to get ahead of the story, but a little detour as it were—between the end of the divorce and the reconciliation with my mother, well, do you know what it is like to try and make $50.00 last between paychecks for food for you and your children? Have you had your power turned off in the middle of winter? Had your car repossessed? Or be faced with a choice of letting your sons walk to school in the middle of winter wearing only shirts, or writing checks for winter clothing, all the while knowing your account was overdrawn to begin with?
When you have a history like I have, it is very easy to live with hate and anger directed at the world and everyone in it. The hate and anger does nothing except reduce the heart and soul to smoldering ash. And the hate and anger does not enable you to live—you only survive from day to day. Even when married, there is a part of you that no one, not your wife or children, ever touch. Allowing that part to be touched raises the specter of being hurt…again.
A good example is that the mother of a Mormon family who watched my two sons while I worked (I “won” the custody battle, but that too took a toll on my children and ex-wife) once touched my shoulder. I did not notice, but she stared at me and said, “You aren’t used to being touched, are you? You stiffened up when I touched your shoulder.”
On reflection, she was right. I was not used to being touched.
The only time that the very hidden part of me was glimpsed was when a woman unexpectedly entered my life. That too ended badly. Within two years she was gone.
Her legacy, if you will, was to open a door that I kept shut (hell, I even had feelings for a young woman a few years before, and I walked away from her because the feelings were scary). I was offered a glimpse of a different world, a world I knew of, and a world that I felt undeserving of. But it was such a wonderful glimpse, though she decided to end the engagement after a year. That open doorway led to some seriously honest introspection—especially realizing what a life time, yes, I said a life time, of hate and anger does to you inside. The realization led to many changes, some of which I still work on today.
It is a warm Thursday evening in April, in Sin City.
For a little over two years I have lived in a small apartment complex run by a national non-profit agency for the VA, for homeless veterans. Technically, that is what I am. Homeless veteran. When I arrived here I was broke and without a job. I had my weekend drill with the Army National Guard, but that is not enough to sustain anyone.
But, a journey consists of changes, sometimes unexpected, sometimes the result of planning and luck. Two months ago I was able to purchase a 1998 Honda Civic DX, the first time I have owned my own car in, oh, maybe 10-12 years.
Tomorrow I move out of here into a weekly, a cross between a motel and an apartment, while I look for a real apartment. Once I find a real apartment, I will move there.
At the end of this spring semester, I will graduate from college with an Associates in Photography (I was trained by the Army, then spent over a decade working for the Federal government as a photographer, but I never had a degree).
Well, I turn 60 this summer and my military retirement pay begins. It is still hard to imagine that after wearing a uniform for almost 30 years that I will receive a monthly check the rest of my life. I had not really planned on it, but when I joined the Army National Guard back in 2004, when I was 50 years old, I did not really have a goal of finishing my military career (which began in 1974-1985, then continued with the Army Reserve 1985-1995) and retiring.
So, goals and long-held dreams?
Maybe I will never photograph, draw, and paint at the Maya ruins or Crusader castles.
Maybe I will never have another photography Muse who understands what I am trying to accomplish and patiently and enthusiastically works with me toward that end.
Maybe I will never visit the Himalayas.
Maybe I will never become scuba qualified, study underwater photography in California, and study for a degree in archaeology in Flagstaff, with the hope of someday photographing underwater archaeology.
Maybe I will never become the painter I would like to be, or will never know what it is like to chisel and hammer away at marble until something recognizable emerges.
Maybe, maybe, maybe…
And, I sometimes wonder—am I meant to complete my journey alone, or will there be someone special beside me these remaining years…
But, I will still photograph and tell stories until the day I die.
So maybe my journey, whenever it ends, does not provide for accomplishing goals and long-held dreams. But I know who I am, I know I have been through some shit, and I am still here.
And you know what? As long as my grandchildren smile at me and give me a hug once in a while, then life is okay.
SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. Second-career goals include becoming a painter and studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. As of December 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.
Amazon.com Author Page
Amazon.com. UK Author Page
Goodreads Author Page