I’m good at hiding it.
The emotional baggage I drag around all the time.
Most of the time, I forget it’s there until something triggers it. I don’t like talking about it, because people sometimes assume it means I’m hung up on my ex-wife and pining for a life that I’m nearly six years removed from and barely remember anymore.
I remember being married, of course. But I don’t remember ME when I was married. I don’t remember what I thought and felt in my everyday baseline emotional state of being.
Those life choices led to the worst thing that ever happened to me, happening. So I’m not sure why pursuing that would make sense to anyone.
I also don’t like talking about it because it makes other people uncomfortable, like all those nights when I was freshly divorced and intellectually aware that no one wanted to talk about it and see me cry in the middle of a bar on a Friday or Saturday night. I used to always say to myself: “Don’t talk about your divorce, don’t talk about your divorce, don’t talk about your divorce.”
And then, without fail, I would talk about my divorce like a massive, undisciplined asshole.
So when I was walking around Las Vegas last week with two work friends, they couldn’t have known that underneath my calm exterior, I was triggered and distracted by more than all the flashing lights.
The past doesn’t always cooperatively stay hidden in the closet.
It was the week of July 6, 2007.
Our close friends were getting married at Bellagio in Las Vegas on that day. My wife and I were the maid of honor and best man.
They wanted to get married on 07-07-07 (because Las Vegas), but a million other people had the same idea (because Las Vegas), so logistically it made sense for them to move the wedding to the day before.
I don’t know what my marriage was back then.
Good? Bad? Average?
She’d have a different perspective, anyway. We decided to start the trying-to-have-children process not long after that trip, which might signal that she was already unhappy at that point and thought having a baby might make things better.
Regardless of how okay I thought my marriage was at the time, 39-year-old me today would have totally pegged us for a future divorce.
She was hanging out poolside with friends at Caesars Palace and shopping in the Forum Shops.
I was playing in a poker cash game at Harrah’s, warming up for an afternoon tournament at Paris.
This past week in Vegas, I didn’t play one hand. Not one. I chose to go out with coworkers and be social, rather than sit at a table with nine strangers.
But when I was in Las Vegas for the first and only time with my wife, I ran away to play cards and do what I wanted to do, rather than invest my time connecting with my wife and friends.
If writing is my thing now, poker was my thing back then.
I was running through everyone at the afternoon poker tournament in Paris.
My wife stopped into the poker room on her walk back to our hotel room to see how I was doing. I was at the final table. Maybe five or six players left out of a field of about 200.
I was on the cusp of victory, and instead of sitting down to cheer for me to win, she said she’d see me back in the hotel room when I was done, and left.
It kind of hurt my feelings. That she had so little interest in this thing that mattered to me.
I was too dense to recognize the 500 times I had made her feel that exact same way over the years, and make that connection that might have saved us later.
I won the tournament.
And I wanted her to be proud of me. I wanted her to think I was good enough.
The tourney winnings paid for the Vegas trip, and then some.
I didn’t know back then that money couldn’t fix what was broken.
I didn’t realize back then how bittersweet it must have been for her to watch me succeed at an activity that adversely affected our marriage because I usually invested more time in watching, reading about, and playing poker than I invested in anything constructive, or proactive, or meaningful to our marriage.
Still. It was a good trip. Fun. Reconnecting with old friends. Making new good memories together, including a fun night with the bride and groom having lots of drinks and laughing at a Lewis Black comedy show at the MGM Grand, and then a memorable laugh-filled walk back to Bellagio afterward.
I hadn’t thought about that moment for years.
And then fast-forward to a week ago, when I found myself walking through the MGM Grand 11 years later.
Even though I LIVE IN THE SAME HOUSE that we lived in together as a married couple, and see and talk to my ex-wife several times per week and it’s super-normal and functional, here I was in Las Vegas on some random casino escalator having a moment.
Then, my friends and I walked north up the Las Vegas Strip. The same walk the four of us had made 11 years earlier on the Vegas wedding trip.
And involuntarily, I felt it.
I don’t know why that mattered.
I have no idea why it made me feel.
But it did.
It just did.
A couple of years removed from divorce, I spent a few days at Disney World and the Daytona 500 with friends, including a woman who liked me.
We were walking around the Magic Kingdom together, just the two of us.
It was cute. I liked her.
But, inevitably, we ended up walking right by the spot where I’d proposed to my ex-wife. We were talking about something, my friend and I. But walking by that spot on the bridge felt just like driving by a place where someone you know died in an auto accident.
Your insides recoil a bit involuntarily.
If you stay cool, it remains invisible to people who don’t know you very well.
The engagement-spot trigger. At Disney.
I don’t know that I’ve ever told anyone about that.
And then a similar thing sort of randomly happened again in Las Vegas.
I’m not sure what to do with that.
There’s luggage—an invisible suitcase—where all of the memories live.
The good and the bad ones. The laughs and smiles and triumphs. But also, the guilt and fear and shame.
It’s baggage. Human baggage. My baggage. But I think everyone else has a little too.
It’s the kind of baggage that single people don’t want to deal with while dating because baggage usually contains or requires a little hardship.
Baggage contains surprises, because it’s full of all the grimy, ugly history that sometimes tarnishes things that looked beautiful just the day before.
The thing about baggage is that you’re supposed to be able to set it down. Just set it down and walk away. It doesn’t matter anymore.
Baggage is something you’re supposed to be able to lose. Or give away. Or destroy.
But it’s like the longer we stay alive, the more things we shove into our suitcases. They just keep getting heavier and more difficult to drag around with us.
Maybe we will be able to set them down someday and walk away. Or maybe we’ll trade them in for new ones.
I don’t know.
And maybe it doesn’t matter. Because it’s always hiding in the closet.
Hardly anyone knows it’s there.
Most of the time, not even me.