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Sports are funny. If you ever have the ability to step back and look at this thing called fandom and athletics, you may see how illogical and bizarre and insane the whole thing is. People investing so much energy and time and emotion in events they cannot control orchestrated by people they will never meet. When you look at it in that light, it comes across as lunacy. If you look at life as one big struggle for control, an endless series of events and encounters that people are hell-bent on grasping and controlling for themselves, then the concept of being a sports fan makes no sense whatsoever. Putting so much into something you have no sway over - in the real world, people get locked away in padded rooms for such nonsense.
But it is in that distinction that fandom makes sense. Because no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we fight, we will always be confronted with things in life that are not only out of our control, but are outside our realm of understanding. Life is full of tragedies in that sense; the most gut wrenching and most painful things you can imagine often come down on the shoulders of those who don't deserve them, because life isn't about what you deserve. It should be, but it isn't. It's about what you get, regardless of what you do before then. The randomness of the universe is something I've never been able to cope with. Genuine, warm, loving, affectionate people shouldn't find themselves staring down the barrel of a disease that will eventually rob them of their ability to function. People who go about things the right way, who treat others with courtesy and respect, who embrace those around them and fit every possible definition of being a "good person" shouldn't have it all taken away in the blink of an eye because someone got distracted while driving and barreled through a red light and took a life because of their carelessness. But it happens. Amazing people are cut down in the prime of life. Reckless, clumsy fools walk away clean. People who fall in love and finally try to embrace it are tossed aside without a second thought, leaving them shattered and ruined and questioning how they could have been so stupid.
Being a sports fan often provides us with an escape from all of the above. We all spend our lives, whether we realize it or not, trying to reduce the misery. We seek out things that make us smile; things that occupy our time and make us feel good. That's what something like football brings. Every Saturday in the fall, we are provided with a little three-hour window that allows us to shed the shackles of life. We don't have to worry ourselves with things like bills, or working, or school. We don't have to dwell on the drama that comes with relationships, romantic or otherwise. We don't have to toss and turn at night, replaying the past in our heads to the point where we feel a perverse combination of sadness, insanity, and rage. For that one little sliver of time on Saturdays, the only thing that matters is what takes place on that field. And whether it's a conscious decision or not, many of us realize that this is our reprieve from the madness. So we throw ourselves headfirst into it. We pour every ounce of emotion we have into it. We shiver when we hear the fight song. We get goose bumps when we run across Schembechler sound bytes on the internet. We see winged helmets shining under the waning summer sun, and then under the looming grayness of autumn, and we feel content. We feel a sense of belonging. We feel like the 110,000 strangers around us are our family for those three hours. Because they know the words to the same song that we do. Because they get the same goose bumps that we do when Bo's gravelly voice echoes over the speakers. Because we all look at this grinning 20-year old from somewhere in Florida with dreadlocks pouring out the back of his helmet, and we see hope.
I've been miserable for a very long time now. Long enough that I can't recall a time when I felt differently. Anyone who has browsed this space of the internet for longer than 10 minutes isn't exceptionally surprised by this. I made the decision many years ago that life was wretched, that people were inherently evil and selfish, and the easiest way to deal with all of it was to never trust anyone, never let anyone get close, destroy any real meaning associated with anything, and to never place any expectations on anyone or anything, because without expectations, there can be no disappointment. A little over a year ago, something entered my life that delivered a wrecking ball to the wall I had erected between myself and the outside world. It brought destruction to the darkness, shook the foundations of everything I had programmed myself to believe, and shined some light in through the wreckage, opening my eyes to the possibility that there was more out there than I perceived. It presented me with the chance for happiness outside of those Saturdays in the fall. For the longest time, I fought it. I lashed out at it and spewed venom at it in an attempt to drive it away. But I wasn't able to. It seeped in through the cracks, because all along as I built the wall, some latent undercurrent of hope was busy chiseling away, leaving the door cracked for the future. And once that began, the wall crumbled. Three years ago, something similar happened in Ann Arbor, as the Schembechler-reinforced bubble around Michigan football was popped by Rich Rodriguez, who promised to lead us to greatness, while simultaneously exposing us to horrors we had never encountered before; horrors that had been unable to get through previously.
And just like the Rodriguez era turned out to be smoke and mirrors and ultimately hollow and without the greatness it portrayed, this intrusion into my life turned out to be corrosive and toxic. It tore through the wall, but with its potential it brought all the atrocities associated with life that I had spent years excising. And when that potential went up in an unceremonious puff of smoke, all that was left was the coldness of the outside world, once again permeating everything and making up for all that time it had been away. And so I saw my world crumble. The world I had established was empty, uninteresting, and colorless. The world I have now is the opposite - it's full, interesting, and colorful; full in the sense that it's full of pain, and hatred, and retroactive self-loathing. Interesting in the sense that it's full of unpredictability, like whether or not I'll have the strength to get out of bed, or whether or not I'll have any interest in living the next day. And it's colorful in the sense that there is an awful lot of red now; the type of metaphorical red that you see when you're infuriated and frustrated to the point of violence, and the type of literal red that comes with blood.
It's around this time that sports, while always being there as a crutch, as a pause, finds itself firmly put in perspective. The misery that always overcame me when Michigan would lose pales in comparison to the misery I feel now. The pain I felt when Michigan lost the Rose Bowl to Texas, or the 2006 Ohio State game, or pretty much anything from the last three years is nothing compared to the pain I'm in every second of every minute of every hour of every day now. The cold sense of dread we all began to experience at some point or another over the last three years, that one that told us that this was destined to fail, doesn't hold a candle to the chilling realization that I have almost every day that maybe I'm just not supposed to find happiness. Maybe I'm supposed to be alone and misanthropic and bitter and whatever else you want to use to describe it. Just as Rich Rodriguez's fate was out of all of our hands, maybe my own fate is out of mine. Perhaps in the ultimate battle for control in a life full of battles for control, I have none, and while things are bad now, fighting that would only make them worse.
On Saturday, Brady Hoke will lead the Wolverines into battle for the first time. The anticipation of a new season is amplified by the arrival of a new coach, and the fan base is abuzz as usual. Except for me. I feel nothing. Because I've allowed the one thing I truly loved, the one thing I thought was above all the chaos, Michigan football, to be tainted and poisoned by the spectacular tragedy that I've allowed to unfold over the last year. I don't anxiously await kickoff on Saturday. I dread it. Because I'm no longer watching a game. I'm watching a nonstop reminder of what has hollowed me out and left nothing but a shell. I'm not escaping from my own personal hell, I'm sinking deeper into it. Michigan was able to escape their hell. They put Rodriguez on the slow boat to China. But just as the metaphor perpetuates itself, things are never as simple in real life as they are on Saturdays in the fall.
I've received a lot of praise over the last few years for some of my work here, and while I don't think much of my writing in general, I appreciate all the compliments I've gotten for some of the things I've posted here. Being my own worst enemy, even this blog reminds me of things I'd much rather erase from my memory forever. But it is what it is. I've never particularly enjoyed my own writing because from my perspective, I write my best work when I'm feeling the worst. If you're a longtime reader, go back and read any of the pieces that you enjoyed. You won't find a single one that conveys optimism. They're all whimsical, or tragically nostalgic, or sometimes downright depressing. From that angle, I suppose this is my best writing of all.
Anyway, I'm glad that my work here has been able to move some of you in some way. I can't predict when the next post will appear here; I can't predict where I'll be in a day, or an hour. Planning for the future creates expectations, and I'm not about to create any, for me or for you.
So...I'll see you when I see you.