Going to pole vault practice on Sunday mornings was the highlight of my week.
Hell, it was the highlight of my life, at that point.
When I connected with Bubba, I was a bit of a mess.
The evening I saw that Facebook post of his about winning a world championship in Masters pole vault, I was sitting in my usual spot on the left-hand side of the couch, where I spent most of my spare time doing mostly nothing but watching TV and numbing myself with Budweiser or whatever else. This was 2017 but my season of discontent evolving into outright misery probably really began back in 2000, when my mother died after an agonizing struggle with something called glioblastoma, a really nasty form of brain cancer.
I didn’t realize it until much later, but I think it was her death that led me to leave a career in journalism that I loved for a long time in search of something different. I just grew restless and wanted a change.
I live in podunk central Texas and so job opportunities are not exactly abundant around here, but I knew a few fellow journalists who had become school teachers, and seemed to enjoy it. At that time, there was supposed to be a big teacher shortage in Texas and so I thought, well, job security. And it paid more than what I was making as a newspaper reporter, so I started looking into it.
I went back to school, got my alternative teaching certification, quit my job, and became an 8th grade ELAR (English language arts and reading) teacher. For a few years, I enjoyed it. I had a terrific principal and excellent, supportive colleagues, and life was pretty darn good.
Then, I moved to a different school district closer to home and it was a completely different environment. A slow, gradual, downhill slide began. By 2017, I was completely miserable but by then, I was in my 50s and I figured it was too late to start over again, so I continued to slog my way through it.
Taking up pole vault was fun and exciting, and I got better at it — slowly — every week. Bubba is an excellent coach and makes sure that something positive comes out of each practice. So I looked forward to Sundays but was still boozing pretty hard most of the time. I eased up some on Saturdays, since I had to be up at the crack of damn dawn the next day for practice, but other than that, it was the same ol’ same ol’. Hell, after we got back to Austin from New Braunfels after practice, I’d get in my pickup and hit the first 7-Eleven on my way home and grab a cold 24-ounce can of Miller.
It wasn’t until sometime in May 2018 that I finally put a plug in the jug.
Here’s what happened:
All this time after I got involved in pole vault, I knew I needed to quit drinking. I told my wife — who had been concerned about me for a while but kept mostly quiet about it — that I was pretty sure there was no such thing as a fat, drunken pole vaulter. We laughed but I continued on.
Then one Friday, I had an interview for a job at a school in a nearby district. I lived 10 minutes from my school so I didn’t want to leave, but my principal made my life miserable for years, as I was not on her little list of favorites — even though I did a good but not great job and my students’ state test scores were always excellent — so I tried for a change of scenery by applying for a different job from time to time.
I took a day off for the interview. It was at 8:30 in the morning and went fairly well, I thought, and I was planning to head back home and relax, enjoy the rest of the day.
But for some reason, I stopped at the first convenience store and bought an ice-cold quart bottle of Miller. It was 9 in the morning. I sucked that down, got some more, and wound up getting good and loaded.
When I woke up the next day, I was pretty disgusted with myself.
And somehow, that was that.
I white-knuckled my way through the next six or seven days, started feeling a little better, and haven’t had any alcohol since.
This was not long after the Texas Senior Games in San Antonio, my first pole vault competition, which is also quite a story.
More on that tomorrow …