Becoming A Ghost

Once surrounded by all my friends and family, I now find myself a living ghost. In the shell of a life that I once had prior to suffering a stroke and losing it all.

Image for post
Photo of Niccolò Caranti. “A supposed ghost sitting on a chair”. by Terrasque CC-BY-SA 3.0

For most of my adult life, I felt like I’ve either had it all, or whatever I was after was within my grasp. I’ve had several successful businesses that I would inevitably sell-off; an exit strategy that was always planned well in advance.

I would then move on to something else. I’ve been a session musician for a good portion of my life so there was never really any downtime. As I would plan the implementation of my exit strategies, I would already start tossing around ideas for my next business venture.

In the midst of all that, I always had music.

I would home-school my kids, conduct field trips, plan out their curriculum, and even have planned training sessions with my kids' skateboarding careers, sports, or whatever it was that inspired them. They love art, music, science, and were very athletic. Since I was once a semi-pro skateboarder in my younger days, they naturally fell right into that. They would inevitably turn to music as well. Hard not to when you have all that inspiration around you.

Hardcore and Heavy Metal were where I was at in my late teens and early twenties in regards to music, I really love Jazz too. I would eventually end up in a Hardcore band that began touring. We did that for the better part of ten years until my first son was born. The decision to give it all up was an easy one. I grew up without my dad around and I didn’t want that for my kids.

By this point, I was approaching my mid-20’s and had made tons of connections in the world of skateboarding and music. So it wasn’t like I couldn’t earn a living. Armed with my degree in horticulture that I had yet to put to use, I was ready for the world. Being a dad, that’s a different story.

To say I was afraid of fatherhood wouldn’t do what I really felt justice. I was scared shitless. To my surprise, I fell into being a dad quite nicely. Not that it didn’t come with some adjustment or surprises. There was plenty of that. But it wasn’t nearly as horrifying as I thought it would be. Not even close.

After some turmoil and abandonment from my oldest son’s mother, I found myself in the early days of yet another career. This time, as a single dad. Again, tons of fear began to set in, and again I made it through. From the time my son was 14 months old until the age of three, it was just us. We had a blast (kinda).

It was around this time that my wife and I found each other. Much to my surprise, her family took my son and I in and treated us like family almost immediately. Suddenly, I had a support system as I had never experienced in my life ever before. It was awesome. They were awesome. They still are.

From the age of eleven, I was a street kid. I talk about it a bit in a piece I wrote here that explains how I got there. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. One thing that particular era in my life taught me was resilience. I have always been able to jump from one thing to the next in an almost seamless fashion. It’s something I just seem to have a knack for.

Thing is, I didn’t have much in the way of family support after about the age of eleven. My mom was always there for us as kids, but it was around that age that everything just fell apart. It was somewhat tragic. But living in the NY/NJ metro area provided opportunities to learn, adapt, and survive. There were lots of good times to be had in my teen years. Skating all over the tri-state area, having sponsors and making decent money. By the time I was thirteen, I was pretty self-sufficient as were all of my teammates.

So when my wife’s family accepted us with open arms it was something I hadn’t experienced since the first decade of my life. I was 25 and didn’t know how well I would receive such love. Prior to that, the only unconditional love I had came from my three-year-old who thought I was the king of all kings.

Fast forward a couple of years and my wife and I had our second child, then a third. My wife had always treated my first son as one of her own. And now, at the age of 21, he still considers her his mother. She never officially adopted him, but he is her son and hers alone. To this day His birth mother doesn’t have anything to do with him. It’s sad, I know. But it’s her loss.

From the time my wife and I got together and subsequently married, we’ve been doing the family thing. Making a good enough living that allowed her to be a stay at home mom. Something she treasures to this day. It gave us many freedoms that most families can’t afford. Being in a single income house, regardless of who the bread-winner is, provides many opportunities that are almost unheard of in these days.

Things were going well. Whether we were running one of the multi-million dollar ventures of ours or failing miserably in one of our many other ones, I was always able to provide for my family and we always did okay. We were never wealthy, but we could afford what we needed when we needed it. By today’s standards, that’s pretty damned good.

During all this time I had all my friends and siblings around. My mom would come to visit from time to time, maybe take the kids for a weekend every once in a while. My mom may have not done so well by me, but she sure as hell tried to make up for it with my kids. She’s a much better grandma than she was a mom. She’s turned her life around too and is doing pretty well for herself. I love her to death.

We always had our friends around as well. My oldest kids became friendly with many musicians with whom I worked. They got to hang out in the studios and see how music was made. From Rap and Hip Hop to Heavy Metal, Rock and Roll, and even Jazz. I love Jazz. I’ve always considered myself lucky to have done the things I have done and became friends artists that I’ve idolized most of my life. I’ve even had the opportunity to work with artists whose album’s would later go gold or platinum. Times were pretty good.

Then the shit hit the fan. I had a stroke at the age of 40.

Yeah. 40.

The second hardest thing I ever wrote was about the stroke. You can read about it here on Manifest-Station. It was after the stroke that I became a ghost. I shut down my business suffering huge financial losses. We would lose everything that wasn’t yet paid off keeping only the things that were. We had limited savings that would dry up much faster than anticipated and we would have to move on to a much more frugal lifestyle.

And that’s okay because the stroke didn’t kill me.

It was at this precise moment in time that all my friends and even my family, with the exception of my wife and kids, would begin to disappear. Now, four years later, they are ALL gone. I no longer have anything to offer them. No hook-ups, no connections, no money, no freebies, no jobs to offer them when they are down. Whoosh. Gone. Like a fart in the wind.

For the first 2–1/2 years, I rarely came out of my room. What was the point? I didn’t have anything to do, no one to see, and aside from my wife and kids, not much to live for either. I spent most of those days wondering if they would have been better off had the stroke just killed me. Those thoughts would lead me to a place I’ve never been to before. Contemplating suicide.

It was pretty damned bad.

Then I came across an article by Jennifer Pastiloff that was truly inspiring and saved me from myself. For the next two months, the only thing I was reading was her writing. I found new life. I started digging around the internet looking for all her old stuff. I read it all because it gave me hope. She gave me ideas. Suddenly my entrepreneurial brain began to fire again. Sure, it’s not the same as it once was, but it was lighting up. I now had an avenue to express myself, a way to let it all out, a way to move on, to keep going.

Writing.

Even while dealing with crippling anxiety and fear, I found myself doing something I have always loved but seemed to have left behind somewhere.

Writing.

Still feeling like a ghost to the world I once knew, I’ve finally found a new world with whom to share my journey with. My adventurous life. I began connecting with some of the musicians and skaters that I once worked with and they were thrilled to hear from me. Some of them heard I had died.

Yes, I’m a ghost of the person I once was. Yes, I’m the shell of the man I used to be. Yes, I’m committed to breathing life back into these bones. I may not be able to function the way I once did, but I can still function. I now live with a renewed sense of purpose. That is to relearn everything I can. I may never ride another skateboard, but I’m playing music again. I may never run another business, but I’m writing like never before.

Having a stroke was somewhat of a blessing in disguise. It’s giving me the opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do. My new and beautiful friends, Jennifer Pastiloff, Amy Ferris, and many others, have pointed to all the great stories I have to tell, and I’m telling them. I also write about mental illness, disability, racism, injustice, and education along with all of the politics that surround those topics.

I want to write about the topics that I’m an expert in not just because I’m educated about them, but because I live them every day. I am now 44 years old, one month away from the four-year anniversary of the day I would leave the hospital I’ve got plenty to say.

Join the ride, because I ain’t dead yet. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

Written by

Anti-racist activist, essayist, and upcoming author; advocating for equality, justice, and accountability. Support my work at patreon.com/ExtremeArturo

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