Nassau, Bahamas–The little girl behind me wants an M&M. I know this because she repeated what she wanted for five consecutive minutes, only taking breaks to take giant breaths that would propel her through the next volley of “M&MM&MM&MM&MM&MM&MM&MM&MM&M” or cry because she had not yet got what she wanted.

This is my sixth time leaving this island and I feel almost exactly as I have every other time I left. I’m tired, fat, and hungover. The biggest difference this time is that the little girl behind me wants an M&M and that’s making me think of my boy. He has a funny way of saying “M&M.” It comes out something like “neminem” and when he says it, it never fails to make me smile. The kid has probably gotten more neminems in his life than he should ever have simply because I have a hard time refusing him.

None of this would be particularly relevant but for the fact that the simple idea of a kid wanting candy has me missing my wife and kids something fierce and to the point of…well, I’m fragile right now. That’s probably the best way to put it.

I figured out how unstable I was early this morning when I left a bunch of good people at a wrap party and made the long walk back to my room with my buddy Joe. We laughed all the way back, and by the time I made it my bed, I was ready to crash, wake up, and go home for a few weeks. Nothing sounded better.

I’d done my best to avoid most of the Haiti coverage. The first word I got of it was when the Bahamas was put on tsunami alert. We were told to stay inside, away from the water, and at attention for a possible disaster of our own. It didn’t happen. We crossed the big bridge from Paradise Island (yes, that’s actually what it’s called) and went to a locals joint for some of the best fish I’ve eaten in the past few years. On the TV above the big birthday party in the corner, the first few images from Haiti flashed on the screen. I turned away, a measure of personal psyche protection that was almost unconscious. The next night, I tried to watch the coverage, but turned it off after 30 seconds. I knew where I was headed. Last night, I’d had a few drinks and left my judgment somewhere near a dance floor and under the din of “All the Single Ladies.” So, when I got back to my hotel room, I watched a replay of Anderson Cooper 360…and…well, yeah, I just fell apart.

Some eight hours later, I still haven’t pulled it together entirely. I can’t get over the fact that I spent two weeks working my ass off…for a poker tournament. I work with some really talented people who I really enjoy being around. When I leave them like I am today, I begin looking forward to the time I’ll see them again. What’s more, I have a pretty good job. It doesn’t pay all that well anymore, but I can see why people think it would be a great way to make a living. All of that said, I put every ounce of effort I had for the past two weeks into reporting to the world how a bunch of people played cards. Meanwhile, people I used to work alongside are sleeping on cots in Haiti and telling the world about one of the biggest disasters our generation will ever know.

I do this because I like the people, I don’t mind the job, I like the travel, and, foremost, because I need to buy my boy more M&Ms. I leave this island for the sixth time tired, fat, and hungover. Sure, it’s probably just the fatigue, homesickness, and fragility talking. And sure, when I got to Vegas next month, I’ll probably have forgotten all about this little mental breakdown that I’ve chosen to live out publicly. This time, though, for the first time since I left the world of real journalism five years ago, I actually feel like I am supposed to be doing something that means something.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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10 Responses

  1. Jen says:

    I identify with your internal struggle. Believe me. I so often question why I put so much effort into writing about Isildur1 or Phil Ivey’s stare. It’s easy to slip into “what does it all mean” mode.

    But you know what also means something? Providing for your beautiful family and making sure they are taken care of. Coming back from an assignment without bullet holes or other problems that could arise from being in places of physical danger. Your family misses you when you’re at a poker tournament, but they rest well at night knowing you’ll be home in one piece. You’re a good husband and father, Otis. And you’ll know that the moment you walk in the door of your house today/tonight.

  2. AgSweep says:

    I apologize in advance if I offend anyone, particularly Otis. I wish I was more articulate, I’m not.

    If you are thinking that you should be on one of those cots in Haiti, think again. The missed kisses, goodnight hugs, your absence at concerts, graduations, birthdays and everything of else of importance would be small comfort to ‘the boy’ and ‘dos’ if they lost you because you were putting yourself in harms way for the greater good. There seems to be no dearth of folks willing to that.

    As for your current job being without social merit. How many thousands have been taken off those same poker tables and already donated to Haiti? How many thousands are donated elsewhere each year?

    I have worked in public service my whole career, but I could have done more, much more. Why didn’t I? As a result of choices, the need to be there for my kids in the mornings, the need to work close to home, the need to work in the same state as my spouse, the need to stay in the same spot while the kids went through school, money… and a billion other things. After everything goes in the blender, if in the morning when I look in mirror and I am satisfied with what I see, I figure I have done a good job.

    It’s a juggling act, Otis. You can’t beat yourself up over past decisions, decisions I would note, that allowed you to start a family, be there for the births of your children, have a spouse who stays home to care for said family, live in area surrounded by people you love, meanwhile keeping a roof and food over everyones head.

    If, ultimately you decide that you wish to do something more for the greater good, I mean other than being an outstanding parent, an involved and informed citizen, and an all around decent human being, than by all means to do so. But don’t denigrate your past choices. The future beckons, and I guarantee that there will be plenty of choices to make.

  3. BadBlood says:

    I’ve always felt that when you have kids and expand your family, you begin to put things that matter to you and your personal goals aside. Not all the way aside, but slightly. Enough that a risk you’d take for personal/professional gain is deemed “not worth it” because of the potential downside to those precious others who matter a whole helluva lot more than you ever anticipated.

    I have 3 pictures at my desk here at work. In each one are both my kids and their smiling faces.

    Were I single and/or married without kids, would I continue to work where I am or would I pursue something different, something more challenging, something more rewarding? You know the answer just as well as I do.

    Don’t make any rash judgments when you’re in the state you’re in. Just find a balance, as others have mentioned, because that’s all a husband and father can really do.

  4. G-Rob says:

    The above comments are reasonable. We’ve all made compromises. I won’t lie, I’ve made compromises not only for my family but for the friends I don’t want to leave here in Greenville.

    Here’s the question I ask myself : One day my brilliant and talented girls will decide what they want to do with THEIR lives…I want them to shoot for the stars.

    I wonder what I’ll say when they ask why I didn’t.

  5. AgSweep says:

    G-Rob, if that day comes, you’ll look at them and be overwhelmed with love and pride. If you can still manage to speak, you will tell them you wouldn’t change a thing because that would change them and you wouldn’t do that for all the world.

  6. F-Train says:

    Actually, I fall more on Otis’ side on this one. I’m just surprised that it took him five years to get to this point. I was there in a little more than a year.

    The bigger problem for those of us on this side of the fence is that we know all we’re really doing is marketing masked as “media”. If it called itself what it really is it might be more palatable.

  7. otis says:

    Some very thoughtful comments here, folks. Much appreciated.

  8. Drizztdj says:

    I used to question myself all the time “am I doing enough”.

    With some enlightenment I finally figured out I should live for two things: my family and to smile.

    That’s it. If my family needs me to go back to school because money is becoming an issue, I’ll enroll. If I need to amp up blogging because there’s a need (such as the hearing aids to allow me to be a bigger part of the family) I’ll sit down and start pounding out some posts.

    Friends help me smile, so there’s the trips to Vegas, Chicago, Key West, to see those who I share so much with but rarely get to sit down and have a beer.

    Keep it simple and solutions become simple as well.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I’m in the same boat. My husband and I have been on medical mission trips to Haiti 6 times with Partners In Health. We preformed surgeries and in the process made friends with many of the beautiful people of Haiti.

    This week, on a daily basis, we have received emails practically begging us to come to Port-Au-Prince. They desperately need surgical teams (hubby is an anesthesiologist and I am a surgical technologist). It rips my heart out to tell them no, but since our last trip to Haiti, I have become the mother of two children who are now two and four. I can’t put myself in that situation. The news is hard for us to watch. We have friends unaccounted for in Port-Au-Prince. I feel so guilty by not going, but I know I am making the right decision for my kids. We’ve donated to PIH and offer a prayer for all who are suffering.

  1. January 17, 2010

    […] M&Ms | Rapid Eye RealityOn tap for Otis. January 4-14–PCA Paradise Island, Bahamas February 24-27–LAPT Uruguay M… […]

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