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This must be the place: There’s too much in this world I can’t seem to shake

I live in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Waynesville. Been here going on eight and a half years. Aside from my shelves of old books (many already read, most to get to, someday) and vinyl records, there are a handful of old guitars in the corner, of which I’ll pull one or two out around my third beer of the evening, usually strumming some uplifting chords, either through memory or by way of simple curiosity along the fretboard.

It ain’t much to look at, but the ole space is warm when I choose to put the heat on. The fridge works and is usually filled with enough food to get through the impending week. I don’t need much, either. And that’s by choice, where I decided long ago to not want much, not ask for much, but always aim for a better tomorrow, even if today didn’t go as well as I’d planned when I awoke into the unknown morning. 

The paycheck I receive every two weeks from this newspaper mostly goes right back out the door to my rent, utilities, truck repairs and college loans (that are now going into the 14th year of repayment). 

The Toyota Tacoma outside my door is beat up, with a busted front bumper and in need of two new back tires. Way overdue for an oil change, too. Winter is coming and for someone who traverses these mountains every day in search of “the story, I’m already putting aside the next check to go straight to the tire shop a few blocks away down Russ Avenue. 

It ain’t much, but it’s more than many might have, or hope to have. And I’m well-aware of that. I’m grateful for my lot in life, and I work hard to ensure that lot remains steady underneath my feet, able to hold up the heavy hopes and dreams I’m held onto since I was a kid trying his hardest to leave the North Country and maybe, somewhere down the line, return as the “local boy done good.” 

By 2 a.m. most nights I’m wide awake. I try to fall asleep, but it never seems to work. My mind races, thinking about nothing and everything, about the past and things I can’t seem to let go, a future of unknowns where you realize that the only thing you can really take hold of in life is how you react in any given situation. 

Cold air seeps through the cracks in the window frames of the old house, the heater not needed until the temperature drops another 10 degrees. No sense in turning it on now. Throw on a sweater to keep warm, just like we did as kids back in that 1820 limestone farmhouse surrounded by cornfields on the Canadian Border. Save those pennies and dollars for those lingering college loans, maybe even enough left over one day to repair that front bumper. 

Thoughts of those freezing tonight. Faces that maybe didn’t even have dinner, let alone a hearty lunch like I was able to buy earlier today when I felt hungry and had enough in my pocket to ensure the transaction, and to buy some groceries to fill the fridge for the impending week. 

Christmas is a few days away, but it feels more like a million miles from any semblance of reality for many of us, probably even you, as well, who decided to keep read this far down the page. But, I remain optimistic. My spirits are holding steady. Take a sip of beer, grab the guitar, strum some uplifting chords, either through memory or by way of simple curiosity along the fretboard.

I hear word this evening of another pandemic stimulus bill passing through Congress. This $600 relief check that will be directly deposited in my bank account sometime in early 2021. Who knows anymore, am I right? That check will cover most of my college loans for February, with, hopefully, a little left over to buy myself a nice steak dinner at the fancy restaurant near Main Street. It’s the little things like that steak dinner that make a face in the crowd feel human again, if but for a moment. 

I’m a simple person with a long list of things I want to do. Not own or save up to buy, but “do.” Like that trip to Paris, France: top of this list. Or maybe finally visit my best buddy from college in Sydney, Australia, to see him and his Aussie wife for the first time since that rollicking New Year’s Eve in New York City long ago, right before they left the country to start a family in her native land. I look forward to finally meeting their daughters, rather than images and updates via Facebook or Instagram.

It’s cold tonight, but I know that I can turn the baseboard heaters on if I want to. And, for that, I consider myself lucky. For there are many who know turning on their heaters isn’t a choice, it’s a hard reality of basic truths about the human condition, and what it means to have to struggle in the face of adversity, in a time when we are supposedly the most advanced and prosperous society in the history of mankind.

I’m a simple person with a long list of things I want to do. And it’s the little things like that steak dinner that make a face in the crowd feel human again, if but for a moment. But, for now, at 2:16 a.m. Tuesday, I’m going to take another sip of beer, grab the guitar, and strum some uplifting chords, either through memory or by way of simple curiosity along the fretboard.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

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