What I Left Behind / What I Became

It’s been over four years since I left the great city of Atlanta, Georgia to move back home after college.  And, to tell you the truth, I think about it every day.

I began playing guitar at the age of thirteen, at a time when I desperately needed something to obsess over.  You see, even at a young age, I was always very into music.  My father, a product of the baby-boom generation, was introduced at a young age to the music that he, many years later, would pass on to me like a ceremonial torch.  Bands like Kiss, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and so on; bands that went to change the world, and change how a little boy from Southwestern Indiana saw it from then on.  Sure, my tastes have changed and progressed over the years, leaning toward the heavier side of rock music (and, yes, there was that awful 8th grade year of my life where I stood proudly as a *gulp*…Juggalo…although I’ve been fortunate to erase that from my past, thank you very much).

By thirteen, I’d had enough with jamming air guitar on the blowup guitar from Party City.  I neededthe real thing, Mom and Dad!  Ask and ye shall receive.  The several years following I spent studying and learning the functions and techniques of the instrument.  By my junior year in high school, I started my own metal trio called Cemetery Symphony, where I played guitar and swore up and down the wall that I was going to do lead vocals…eventually.  I wasn’t the best singer—although, I don’t think I’m all that bad now—but I was damn determined to get this group up and off the ground, and I would lead us to fame and infamy, and would be up to our elbows in groupies for the rest of our lives.

We had one show.  We sucked.

Oh well.  Life goes on.  And it did.  I took guitar lessons from a gentleman named David Brewster, who I still blame my entire writing endeavors on.  When not teaching, we would gush about horrorfilms, and argue over which was better: Fast Zombies verses Slow Zombies.  He knew that I was a big zombie movie fanatic (I can admit now that I’ve had my share of zombies, movies and/or fiction, to last a lifetime), so he told me about this new author whose first novel hadjust been released.  A modern classic, he said.  Couldn’t put it down, he said.  Sure, whatever, I said.  I’ll give it a whirl.

That book was Brian Keene’s The Rising.

That was the beginning.

Following high school, I ventured to the south to Atlanta, Georgia to further my studies of guitar and the rock and roll way at the Atlanta Institute of Music.  By that point in my life I knew what I was going to be, and I’d be damned if anyone told me otherwise.  My parents wanted me to go to a regular college.  My friends thought I was dumb.  My teachers looked at me funny (come to think of it, it was probably my long hair at the time).  Damn them—damn them all!  I was going to be a fucking rock star…

I should have listened.

The point of this blog entry isn’t to bash AIM—quite the opposite, actually.  For an eighteen year-old fresh out of high school, moving six hours away from home was one of the smartest things I could have done.  It made me independent.  It made me responsible.  It made me wash my own damn clothes, buy my own damn groceries (this was back in 2005-06, and it still blows my mind how I gave myself a weekly $30 limit on food and $15 on gas, and still managed to get around with a full tank and a full stomach) and clean my own damn toilet.  I did this all on my own.  For nearly two years, I busted ass at UPS while most of my fellow students were taking a free ride on the mommy- and daddy-bought college experience of sleeping late, staying wasted, and doing whatever the hell they pleased without so much as leaving their pre-paid apartments.  Sure, I was jealous, but I was damn proud to know that I was working hard for my stay in school.  I worked damn hard, even back at home, for my Alpine White Gibson Les Paul Studio and Peavey Triple XXX all tube Half-Stack.  But I’m not going to bash on those guys (and gals) either.  In fact, I made some of the best friends I’ll ever have down there, like the current members of The Maximum Wes Club, started by Zack, Blue, Jake, Daniel, and Steph (love you guys!).  And, of course, one of my best buddies ever Nathan Brown (if you happen to see this post, Nathan, call me, you
bastard!  We haven’t talked in forever!).

I graduated in February 2007, and had to make that terrible decision, the one ultimately this blog is based on: Do I stay, or do I go?  For the first year or so of living in Atlanta, I loved it.  I was living on my own, going to concerts almost every weekend, having fun with my new friends, and fighting with my then female roommate (and you’re reading this, Alice, I don’t hate you anymore…let’s bury the hatchet.  I would love to buy you some fresh tampons, considering you’ve been wearing the same one for the last four years.)  But after that initial hump, I was completely over it.  I wanted to come home.  Look, I’ve always been a city boy (despite what you PA fuckers think :)), but I was ready to get away from the insane traffic, and the fact I only got to see my family five or six times a year was killing me.

I made the phone call to my parents.  They were not happy.  For two years, I told them Atlanta was my new home base, and that’s just the way it was going to be.  I had a few job offers before I left, some sounded ok, while others sounded…well, honestly they sounded lame.  I didn’t go to school to teach ten year-olds how to play their G chords.  I left Atlanta unhappy.

I came home unhappy, too.  What was I going to do?  I now owned a $12,000 piece of paper that said “I can play guitar really well!”, but what the hell was I going to now?  I didn’t want to teach, and working at music store didn’t peak my interest either.  So factory work it shall be.

I was still unhappy.

But I’ll be damned if I didn’t become a reading fool.  Keene led to Lebbon.  Lebbon led to Gonzalez.  Gonzalez led to Braunbeck.  Which led me to Indianapolis, where a small convention was held every year called Mo*Con, where horror authors, artists and fans would gather and sign, panel, and shoot the shit…and I wasn’t going to leave until I shook Brian Keene’s hand and thank him for all of the great fiction that cheered me up a bit on days when life would kick me in the balls.

Something clicked that day…something strange that changed me.  I looked around and listened to all the people who came in from states I had never even been to, people that drove across states for hundreds—some even thousands—of miles just to get a hand shake and get a book signed.  I was floored.  And I was inspired.

Not long after coming back from Indy, I had long talk with my best friend Joseph about this idea I had.  I told him I want to write fiction, and I’ve got this great novel idea.  He wished me luck, and that was that.  And for the next three years—yes, that’s 3—I poured my blood sweat and (sometimes literally) tears into that novel, giving this story my all like I had never done with anything else in my life.  I worked day and night like a banshee, trying to pull this story out of my head and onto paper.

Then I met my ex.

I won’t tell you her name, so let’s just call her C, because there are so many four letter words we call her instead.  I met my then girlfriend, and promptly fell in love, but it took me away from my writing, which made me sad (although, I may be exaggerating…after all, she was keeping me…occupied…with other things).  After being with C for nearly two years of my life, I wanted so badly for her to be the one.  And for a little while I thought she was…

I won’t go into detail about our breakup, but I can tell you it wasn’t pretty, and there’s a reason why I haven’t spoken to her since July 2nd 2009.

I was not a happy person.  Sure, I finished my novel, and was enthused as all hell about that, but everything else in my life sucked.  I was depressed, I was lonely, and I took my frustrations from work home with me.  Friends, family, co-workers…no one wanted to be around me.  For a little while, I didn’t want to be around me.  I had completely stopped playing guitar.  The dream was dead.

Then I went to Mo*Con 2010…and met two people who changed my life forever.

For the last year and half, I’ve been happier than I have ever been in my entire life.  I’ve met some amazing, truly wonderful and accepting people who I can now call my friends, I’ve seen some awesome sights, and even befriended a Canadian (love ya, Ron!).  And after four years of hard work, I’ve finally starting to sell some fiction.

What I left behind was a dream.  What I became was a better, happier person.

I may not yet have found my place in the world, but damn it, I can finally see where I’m going.

Hello, World.  Meet Wes.

So, after this lengthy blog about my life experience, tell me…what terrifying choice have you made that’s ultimately changed your life for the better?

1 thought on “What I Left Behind / What I Became

  1. I’m guessing I’m just a few years older than you, but made almost all the same mistakes. I didn’t move out, but like yourself I was determined to be a musician. My epiphany happened in a fit of desperation due to depression. I had no money, no job, no musical equipment left to play or sell. I did have a pen and paper, and books. I wrote 8 poems in one night, all of which I planned to destroy the following morning. My ex saw them and demanded that I hold on to them.

    A year later, that terrifying choice was made for me: she left me. It’s been nearly a year removed, and I’m writing almost daily, reading more than I ever have, and have found peace within my stories and poems. I’ve gotten my stories out there for people to read, and the poems are coming up shortly. So the most terrifying choice that I’ve had to make for myself was simply to get off my ass and work at my dream, not at a job.

    Thanks very much for sharing, and letting me share a cliffnotes version of the last few years of my life.

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