Origin Story

And on the 8th day, God created me.

You don’t hear about it because he said “oh, crap” and altered the space-time continuum; my existence would be delayed until 1979, when I would be born into a poor, uneducated family in a shitty little city called Williamsport.

It was a typical scenario for most kids in my childhood social circle – dad wasn’t around much, mom did the best she could, when she could, and we spent most of our time wandering around the mountaintops and forests of Bodines.

We had abusive lives at home, for the most part. Our fathers were drug addicts, alcoholics, or violent. Some of our parents’ friends were sexual abusers.

A night of card games for the family meant something more sinister for us.

It was a horror show. Being at home meant pain, disappointment or neglect so we opted to stay outdoors a lot – even beyond curfew. The darkness and cold of the woods at night offered a safety that the warmth of our hearth did not.

In school, we were made fun of because of our clothes and poverty. Our sense of self feeling as stamped out as our crumpled paper lunch tickets we used to buy our school lunches. We were always hungry. Some days, none of us ate at all.

I remember praying nearly every day to be taken away.

Eventually, as is with most prayers, my wish was granted.

Teenage Years

The child laws in Pennsylvania dictate that once a child reaches age 12 he or she has a voice in where they want to live should another family member offer to take over guardianship. I opted to get the F out and stay with my grandparents.

Due to the facts of the case that found I was beaten and abused but my brothers weren’t, I was removed from the home while my two brothers remained.

The new home environment was vastly different – it was wholesome, loving, and middle-class. It was extremely Christian (Baptist). My grandparents lived through the depression, so they saved pretty much everything – including me.

I was a tad spoiled. Perhaps they felt a need to shower me with affection, food, clothing, and presence in an attempt to outweigh the nightmare I came from.

I enrolled in school sports like wrestling, football, baseball, and track and field. They would come to all of my games and support me. It felt really good.

Things were better but I was always running from something.

I was always “sad”, I guess you could say.

My folks noticed I had a passion for computers, electronics, drawing, writing, and building things and offered me outlets of expression and lots of drawing supplies. My grandfather bought an issue of PC Shopper and told me to find a PC.

After hours of leafing through 500 pages of tech specs and advertisements, I did.

I found an IBM 386 with 16 megabytes of ram and Windows 3.11. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen (*cue gleeful Windows startup chime).

When the computer arrived, the first thing I did was take it apart to see how it worked. It took weeks to get that thing back together. But once I did, I became obsessed with seeing what I could do with this new technology.

So, I did what any good nerd would do – I found some fellow nerds.

We had a fun time taking apart computers and fixing them with spare parts and we each ran a public BBS (bulletin board system) on our computers to share files and ideas back and forth. We challenged each other to push the limits of the software.

Soon after the notorious AOL online CD craze, the public began creating their own websites and by age 15, I was webmaster of one of the first 2,278 websites in the world. It was a fan-site for Marilyn Manson music (yes, I was an “emo” kid).

It was addictive to communicate with others and watch the visitor count go up.

I was one of the very first “influencers”, I just didn’t realize it yet.

I believe it was in these moments I began my career in marketing, although the first job as an Art Director wouldn’t come until years later.

Crash and Burn

Fast forward two years later and I’m 17 years old with a small circle of friends. I guess you could say we were the “misfits” in a way.

Montoursville High School was a place distinctly separated by wealth, jocks, band geeks, and nerds. So, you kind of kept a circle of friends within whatever social circle your parents were in. Since I was in the same school district I started in as a child, my social prospects were kind of limited, but I did have some friends.

One of my close friends was Jordan Bower. We would get together on weekends and either run around the neighborhood or practice archery or play video games or listen to music and make up all kinds of wild ideas. We had similar backgrounds, so we understood and supported each other.

Our favorite thing to do was to run from block to block, lighting smoke bombs on the porches of unsuspecting homeowners and then ring the doorbell. We’d jump into the bushes and peek onward to see their face as they opened the door to find smoke billowing into their house. It was hilarious.

Jordan was in the French club at school and in 1996, he went on a school trip with a few of my other friends and classmates to Paris. They never made it there.

On July 17, 1996 at approximately 8:31pm, Jordan and other classmates and friends, as well as teachers from my school, and hundreds of other families were engulfed in flames as the plane exploded only 12 minutes after takeoff.

I was one of the few from my school interviewed for the July 29 issue of Time Magazine. I was stunned and still in a state of shock, and the only memory I could give them was my memory of gleefully running from house to house with Jordan.

Today, Jordan lies in the memorial lot in Montoursville cemetery with a picture of the Dodge Viper he loved, etched in stone. But his smile and quirky sense of humor will be etched in my memory forever. He’s the reason I drive a Corvette.

We always had dreams of fast cars.

His was the red Dodge Viper GTS. Mine was the silver Chevy Corvette.

I have one more muscle car to obtain. Or maybe 20 more.

Get In Line, Recruit

After High School, I just wanted to get away – from everything. Away from my hometown. Away from my family. I think I was even a bit suicidal. So, I went to see a Marine Corps recruiter because Marines had a shorter shelf-life.

I enlisted and tested high on the ASVAB and was offered a seat as an Air Traffic Controller. That summer, I injured my leg and had to push back my ship date. So, I lost my seat in air traffic control and they placed me in Aviation Ordnance.

Basically, I was going to work on Harriers and blow shit up. Yessss.

I loved boot camp, even though I was kind of a clown. I was always giggling at how angry the drill instructors tried to be. I ended up on the quarterdeck so often that by the time I left boot camp I looked like a shorter, less handsome version of Captain America.

After boot camp, I went home and married my high school girlfriend – something they warn you NOT to do. She was in a hurry so it was a shotgun wedding at our hometown church during a Thanksgiving food drive. Notably, the wedding photos all had cans of cream corn, green beans, and cranberries in the background.

A dashing backdrop indeed for my fresh green Alphas.

After the 14 days of leave, I returned to my Marine Corps job training in North Carolina.

Shortly after, I was notified my brother Michael had a staph infection from some horseplay with a BB gun. Foolish but understandable.

A nurse was coming to the house each day for Michael, but my grandmother soon began to notice something was off about my youngest brother, Brent.

Brent and I were very close. He was my little buddy.

We all have that one brother or sister that we’re closer to, and Brent was mine. He was such a funny, energetic little guy. We were 6 years apart, but we just vibed.

For his school project, they all had to write books on who their hero was, and his hero was me. He wanted to be a Marine just like me so he could save people.

It captured my heart. And shortly after, it was broken.

The Descent

I was 80% through my Aviation Ordnance school when I was called into the Commander’s office. “Sit down, Marine” he said. “The Red Cross called. There’s a family emergency at home. We’re flying you home right away”.

My heart sank. I tried to call home to see what was going on but I was unable to talk to anyone prior to boarding the small puddle-jumper before I went back home.

On the plane, a million scenarios crossed my mind and I was certain it was my brother Michael due to the severity of his staph infection.

It was an extremely long flight to Pennsylvania. 4 hours felt like forever.

As I stepped off of the plane, I saw Michael standing there with family. Where was Brent? My mind was a blur. Minutes later I learned that a week prior, Brent had suddenly fallen ill and had died of Myocarditis due to a staph infection.

The doctor thought it could have been due to unclean living conditions, or dirty medical towels that were not properly cleaned, transmitting the infection to Brent.

Nobody knew he had an underlying heart condition.

I learned how poorly treated my brothers were while I was away and how there was never any food in the house. My father had recently gotten a new girlfriend, so his attention had been elsewhere. I discovered Brent had been ill for a few weeks prior, and that my father consistently avoided taking him to get checked out.

Of course, this could happen to anyone, but my dad took it hardest. And he’s carried this guilt for over 20 years. I think we all feel a little bit guilty.

I blamed myself. I always tried to look after them as best I could, but when I was away, I could not protect them. I returned to North Carolina, shattered.

Into Madness

Something wasn’t right with me when I got back to North Carolina.

Over the next couple years, I did well as a Marine, earning commendations for performance and conduct and excelling in every area of my duties.

I enjoyed the training, going onto the cruisers with my unit (VMA-214 Black Sheep) for training exercises, and working with EOD to dispose of ordnance.

I loved the camaraderie and bonds forged with my brothers and sisters.

But no matter how fun the training or rewarding the bonds, I failed to address the big shadow living inside of me – a shadow of sadness, of rage, and anger. Near the end of my 4 year tour, I fell into darkness and began to harm myself.

It started off simple as a teenager when I burned myself with cigarettes, but this time, I chose the box cutters found at nearly any Harrier workstation.

I was able to hide it for a while. A little cut here, a little cut there. But one day I just kind of lost it. I can’t remember the emotions too much, all I can remember is anguish and self loathing, followed by walking into the admin office with a blade.

I held up my arm and cut it. Then I made the wound talk like a puppet.

I left the office and walked out into the smoke pit to have a smoke, but I didn’t get more than 50 yards before I was tackled by three very large MPs. I was stitched up and sent to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego for a full psychiatric evaluation, stamped with a seal of excellence, and transported back to base with a PTSD diagnosis.

I was screaming for attention and I got it.

When I got back to base, my wife had left and cleared everything out of our home. I no longer qualified for family housing so I went to live in the barracks.

Later, I went to live in San Francisco, California and worked a sales job at Sprint PCS.

After a few months of slinging the hottest flip phones to people who didn’t even know how to use them, I decided to drive back to Pennsylvania to spend time with family and use some of the computer science and design skills I had to get a job in advertising.

Expression Obsession

When I arrived home, it had a much different, darker energy than before I had left.

The family was still in shambles, moving between moments of grief and moments of shaming and blaming. It was like a comedic tragedy on repeat.

I needed an outlet, so I started working with Photoshop again and working with website development. I had a thing for Joomla and WordPress.

One of the first things I did was to work on my resume and to build a portfolio.

This landed me a low paying job as Art Director for a small award-winning ad agency and started my career, officially. I worked on everything from newspaper ads to video scripts to full blown commercial edits. It was an amazing experience.

And the rest, as they say, is history… to be uncovered later.

A Beautiful Journey

Across my 44 years on this planet, and through all of the pain, suffering, self loathing, mistakes, successes, memories and lessons learned I have but only one fact that I hold to be higher than any is this – life is a beautifully fucked up, short journey through absolute chaos and somewhere through it all, we end up okay.

There are endless combinations of paths, backgrounds, and experiences that make each one of us unique. Once we discover that through this shared uniqueness we are all one, that we are all connected, that we all matter – that is where we’ll find solace.

It’s not what happens to us, it’s what we do with it that matters. From being completely broken and alone, completely poor and depressed, I have found ways to transmute emotion into something more – a choice. I made the choice to use it.

I choose to let these things fuel me, to empower me, and to guide me.

Life is about finding your own little unique vibration, and then finding others to sit and vibe with you. To share in experiences, knowledge, and support.

If you’ve made it this far, you know more about me than most people.

Are we vibing yet?

Now it’s your turn.

I am sure your story has even greater potential power, but what will you do with it?

That is your beautiful journey. Get out and use it to teach and inspire.

If I can break the chains that bind and achieve success, so can you.