We just got home from a week on the road. It’s been a busy seven days. I told stories in four different states, I ate a lot of barbecue, I saw a ballgame in Atlanta.
When we arrived home, our dogs were psychotic. Otis (alleged Labrador) was barking. Thelma Lou (bloodhound) was howling in a low-pitched voice.
If you ever hear a bloodhound howl, it will bless your heart.
I’m starting to sound like my parents. My father used to use that phrase a lot, long before it became a T-shirt cliché. Whenever he talked about anything that was particularly good, that phrase was used.
For example: “Try the cornbread, it will bless your heart.”
Or: “There’s nothing like hearing Bill Gaither hit them high notes, it’ll bless your heart.”
Years later, people started sending cutesy chain emails about this phrase and ruined it for the rest of us.
I remember once, when our church was shorthanded on nursery workers. Someone asked my father to help hold the newborns.
My father was in the nursery all Sunday. You couldn’t drag him away from that room. The blue-collar man rocked a hundred babies and kissed two hundred fat cheeks.
And when my mother asked him how it went, he said, “Volunteering in the nursery will bless your heart.”
I’ll never forget that. And I’ll never forget him.
After my dogs mauled me, I unloaded luggage from our vehicle. I heard a horn honking. It was the UPS truck.
The deliveryman handed me a package and bid me good day.
When he drove away, I tore the manila paper and felt my breath catch. I wasn’t expecting it. It was a book. A novel. Written by me. My name was on the dust jacket.
It had an actual dust jacket.
My wife put her arms around me and I felt hot water roll down my cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” I kept saying because this is what grown men say when they cry. We’re taught from a very young age not to cry openly unless the coach says we can.
But if I’m being completely honest, I’ve done a lot of crying in life. I grew up in a way that wasn’t pretty.
After my father offed himself, I didn’t get the opportunities some of my friends got. My story isn’t unique, it’s the same story you’ve heard a hundred times before. It might even be your story.
Kid grows up without confidence. Kid feels like a loser. Kid believes he has this strange ability to screw up everything, even simple things. He thinks he is a walking, talking mistake.
Kid drops out of school. Kid spends time on construction job-sites, or playing guitar in an all-you-can-eat-crab-leg joint.
Kid feels like white trash, wears Walmart clothes. Kid grows up and lives in sketchy places where his neighbors make fake handicapped parking passes on a home printer and sell them for fifty bucks on the black market.
Kid doesn’t like himself very much. Nobody wants this kid dating their daughter. This kid is hopeless.
That was me.
But this all changed when, by some stroke of fortune, I found a woman who saw through all that.
On our honeymoon night—I shouldn’t be telling you this—we stood on the hotel patio. Me in my tuxedo, her in her dress. We stared at the night sky, awkward in each other’s arms, daydreaming aloud.
“What kinda things do you want outta life?” she asked the dropout.
“Me?” I said.
“I don’t know.”
“Sure you do.”
“I wanna be a writer.”
It had just popped out. I didn’t mean to say it. But sometimes you tell the truth by accident.
It felt like a stupid thing to admit. People like me did not become writers. We worked from can to can’t, or until someone called our number, then we drew Social Security—God willing. That’s how life went.
I see now that I was a fool for thinking that. But I don’t feel like a fool anymore. At least not completely.
Tonight, I promised myself I wouldn’t write something sappy. Forgive me. So far, this has been about as sappy as the Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup I knocked over in the fridge yesterday and left for someone else to clean up.
But I can’t control myself. There is a hardback book in my hands, and I never thought I would be holding it. I wish I could buy the whole world a bloodhound and an alleged Labrador so they could feel the way I feel right now.
Earlier, my wife kissed my hair and said, “What’s it feel like holding your book?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
Because I have too many thoughts at once. Some good. Some bittersweet. Some sad.
I wish my father were alive. I wish I could see him hold this book, and read the dust jacket. If he were here, I believe he would have cried. He would have apologized for crying because that’s what grown men do. But I believe he would have worn red eyes and a snotty nose just like I did.
I wish I could have seen that. I would’ve given almost anything to see that. It would have been precious to me. No.
It would have blessed my heart.