Imagine you have never left the solid grounds of your midwestern existence to experience the pictures you see on your tv screen. You have never seen the ocean, mountains, or experienced skyscrapers from the movie scenes. It is my opinion that the things we see in magazines and on television really don’t exist in real life until we see them in person. I took a trip to the Garden on October 31th, 2015. It changed everything. I became a new person at 25 because I followed my hero to New York City. The Garden indirectly made 26 the best year of my life.
I had seen the midwest. I had visited Lincoln, Kennedy, Roosevelt, and Jefferson at Mount Rushmore. I had experienced a drive through Iowa. I had even found first love in Chicago when I was 16. Still, I had never gotten to explore this world on my own. I was always on a school trip or on a family road trip of sorts. I didn’t appreciate the mountainous president’s or the badlands. I was more interested in being on my Sega Game Gear. It’s hard to believe a young 7 to 9 year old boy who experienced open heart surgeries biggest memory was having his ears popped for hours driving on Needles highway. That was me though. Crying at Denny’s because my ears wouldn’t return to an unpopped state.
Growing up with Congenital Heart Disease has shaped me in a lot of good and horrible ways. I am tough as nails physically. I don’t complain about pain often. If I am complaining about pain I am usually pretty casual about it. My mother is probably one of the only people who has heard me have extreme panic attacks about pain or racing heart rates. Sometimes I still call my mom at 3am because my heart is racing for no reason and my chest feels like it’s caving in. I use these experiences to put problems at work in perspective. I think they keep me humble in day to day life.
The last open heart surgery I had was the most difficult for me. I was in 8th grade. I was at St. Mary’s hospital in rochester for what felt like months. Finally one day they let me go home. The next day I started to get horrible migraines. These headaches were the most excruciatingly painful experiences I have had to this day. My parents took me back to St. Mary’s the day after I got home from the hospital from an open heart surgery. I walked into the St. Mary’s lobby that day and started to lose my ability to speak. I began to scream in the lobby at my mom that I wanted to go back home. Each time I screamed at her to take me home I cried a little harder. I started yelling at her to give me my jacket. I slowly forgot the english word for jacket. Then I forgot the words for give me. I continued to forget words until I forgot my parents names and who I was. I had Encephalitis. I had somehow contracted a virus that lead to my brain basically swelling.
Months passed while I lay on my parents couch slowly recovering. I hallucinated constantly. I never had an Idea of what was real and what was fake. I have friends visit me to play NBA 2k on PS2. Those friends later told me I was just staring blankly at the floor the whole time. I went back to school about a month later. I didn’t fully recover probably until after the school year ended. Friends of mine later told me that during that school year I was blacking out and forgetting where I was. I was told some people even made fun of me while I didn’t know where I was. From that point on I had more trouble fitting in and trusting than ever before.
I eventually found connection to music. I didn’t get to play sports and my doctors had me taken out of gym class when I entered the 7th grade. So I sat in my basement creating relationships with the records I loved. I think discovering Nirvana enabled me to be okay with being depressed. Hearing Kurt Cobain scream on “Where Did You Last Night” eventually lead to me playing guitar. Playing guitar lead me to more heroes and records. I blasted Sugarcult and Prince records constantly. I didn’t talk to kids at school much. I let the records I listed to talk to me. Eventually I bought a copy of John Mayer’s “Room for Squares”. I was embarrassed that I loved it. I remember loving “Love Song For No One” and “My Stupid Mouth”. Then John released “Heavier Things”. I loved that one too! I don’t know that I fully understood all the things he was singing about yet but I was oddly connected to this music. When I finally saw John jam the intro to “City Love” at Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads Guitar Festivle 2004” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_VDoCKxwkY) It was over. I was hooked. I wanted to be that guy. I want to play guitar like that guy. I wanted to play a Strat like that guy. I wanted overthink and overanalyze everything I speak about like that guy.
I eventually started leaving my Blooming Prairie, MN door step to see a few live shows. I saw Sugarcult, Prince, Silverstein, and all the other bands I love. I managed to see John play once while in high school. I later saw him while I was in college again. I started to connect with lyrical content in John’s music more as I got older. I don’t think a 15 to 18 year old kid could really connect with what he was singing about. The more I listened the more I connected. I eventually saw him in Milwaukee for the Born and Raised Tour and later for the Paradise Valley tour in Minneapolis. Over time my connection to John’s music was less about guitar playing and being cool. The connection became about how those songs made me feel about life, and how I related them to my life. I could feel the heartache and appreciate his point of view.
I felt like I was at my healthiest state in life when I was 24. I started really trying to put my health first. I was going to the gym a lot and eating better than usual. I was trying to be proactive about my heart disease. One day I started having crazy chest ache where it just felt like I couldn’t breathe. I called into work and stayed home for the day. The next morning I called in again. That morning I went to the emergency room at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis. I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. They ran every test in the book to see if anything was wrong with my heart. Eventually the doctors told me I had high Troponin levels. They assured me I hadn’t had a heart attack which is what they usually diagnosed when a patient had high Troponin levels. The eventually speculated that I may have myocarditis. They ran more test and made me stay the night. I eventually got transferred to St. Mary’s again so my primary physician could care for me.
Doctors eventually figured out that I had myocarditis. My heart had become completely inflamed. I had total heart block. My beats per minute (BPM) wouldn’t rise above 40 for anything. Doctors scheduled a biopsy to figure out what had caused the myocarditis. They told me it could be one of two things. I either had a virus in my system or a giant cell mutation. The doctors assured me that if a virus was the cause I could feel normal again in 2 years. After I asked they told me if it was a giant cell mutation I could expect to die in 2 years from heart failure. I waited for two days for that biopsy assuming the worst. I joked with visitors all day long. I have learned you have to keep the people around you calm to keep yourself calm. I sobbed when I was in the room by myself. It was the first extended stay in the hospital where my mom hadn’t slept on a cot next to me every night.
The biopsy came back as a virus. I had worried a lot for nothing. I can’t help but think most people would assume the worst the way I had. I waited in the hospital for 2 weeks with no treatment but a temporary pacemaker that they drilled in my neck to make sure my heart rate didn’t drop below 30. I dodged a bullet. Overtime after I went home I went back to letting the records speak to me. Hearing John sing “No it won’t all go the way it should, but I know the heart of life is good” took on a whole new meaning.
These John Mayer songs kept reforming to my life’s situations and making me feel a little better about my lot in life. “Perfectly Lonely” is more than a cool pop song now. Its an anthem for me existing in a world where I am afraid that someone wouldn’t date me because I have heart disease at 26. It’s a reminder that it’s okay to be alone when all your friends are finding the loves of their lives. “Heartbreak Warfare” is the gut shot I feel when I think about the women who entered and left my life. Some of them I completely regret others I miss everyday. These songs have been consistent soundtracks to the situations I have experienced in my life.
Last year John announced that he would be joining remaining members of the grateful dead for a show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I was so intrigued at the potential of my favorite guitarist playing with a band like the Grateful Dead. I knew his playing would open up in a way it never had and that the potential was limitless. I decided I wanted to go to this show. I thought a lot about who might go with me. In my mind the people I knew with money to just go to New York City for a couple days wouldn’t want to see John Mayer with the Dead. I didn’t think the people who would want to see the Dead would want to spend so much money to leave town. I decided I was going to go alone. Shit, I listened to John’s records alone for years. I bought tickets to see John with the dead in a group that would be called Dead and Company on October 31st. 2015 and November 1st. 2015.
Months passed and it was finally time for the flight. I had never been on a plane in my life. I had never left the Midwest. That morning I put on my chestnut UGG boots, a Minnesota Vikings hoodie I wear almost every other day and a black pleather jacket. I had a backpack with a Andrew Wiggins t-shirt, a white undershirt, a maroon and black plaid button up I got at the gap, my medications, and a phone charger. I walked into the airport listening to John’s “Queen of California”. I start every long trip whether it be across the country or an hour drive listening to “Queen of California”. I sat nervously on the plane waiting for it to take off. I remember feeling my stomach fall to my feet when we took off. I had a window seat and looked out it the whole time. I remember looking down and seeing the ocean for the first time as we neared JFK International Airport. The whole city looked so small and I had no concept of where I was.
I soon realized after we landed at JFK I had no effing clue how to navigate airports. I had no idea how far Park 79 hotel was. What subway train did I get on? These were all things I didn’t research. I didn’t research cool places to visit. I didn’t do anything but listen to Grateful Dead music to research this trip.
I navigated JFK and eventually found the subway. To be honest the subway scared the shit out of me. I should have ubered or got a cab I thought. I just couldn’t resist the cost savings of the subway. It was jam packed with all sorts of diverse people. Everyone was minding their own business. Eventually some performers came into the our train car and started breakdancing in the moving train to a boom box they brought with them. It was some of the most impressive dancing I had ever seen. I didn’t know if I should be scared or excited by the subway. I eventually got off my first train to hop on my second train. The second train line was supposed to lead me to a stop that would allow me easy access to my hotel. I learned quickly I got on the wrong train and went backwards to the other end of Manhattan.
I decided I didn’t want anything to do with the subway anymore. When I walked out of the subway and saw the city for the first time I was instantly amazed. When you see New York City on TV you get the idea that everything about it is massive. When you are standing there in person you have no concept of how big it is. When you’re on the street you never get a perspective that allows you to realize the size of that city. You see the buildings near you. I opted to walk to my hotel that was 8 miles away. I passed broadway, time square and then I finally saw central park.
Nothing about the Manhattan scared me. I walked all the way to my hotel and just stared at everything. I ate at random food trucks. I couldn’t get over this city. I spent my free time in the city talking baseball with the locals and checking out unresearched food spots. I even managed to find a Minnesota Viking fan bar to watch the game at. Those random experiences will never leave my mind. I remember the people I spoke to and how loud that bar got for Viking touchdown.
It finally hit me that I was staying a block away from Central Park and I hadn’t stopped at Strawberry Fields. Strawberry Fields is the mosaic tile that says “Imagine” in Central Park. It’s a memorial to John Lennon I had seen hundreds of times in photos. There were flowers all around that fans still leave for John Lennon. I wasn’t the first person to travel to this amazing city for music. I decided to walk up the street to the Dakota. John Lennon was shot outside the Dakota. I felt cold and empty knowing that one of what I consider the 5 most influential musicians of all time was murdered in cold blood where I stood. It became apparent that this city could make me feel anything at different time.
I found my purest form of Joy on October 31st, 2015. When I walked to The Garden for the first of 2 shows I would experience that week. I sat in my seat and I waited. The guy sitting next to me was from Baltimore. His name was Jamison. We didn’t talk about anything super special but he was friendly and embodies a very important lesson I learned about myself traveling to New York City alone. I take comfort in people not knowing everything about me. I am constantly loaded with anxiety that people don’t like me. Being in a city where no one knows you or your life experience allows you to reset yourself and shut that off. I constantly worry that I am not good enough for people I meet in Minneapolis. They may eventually meet someone who knows me who will say I am a fraud or that I am a piece of shit. I find solace in people not really knowing me. All the while I want to be open and tell my life story to everyone.
Jack Straw was the first song Dead and Company played. I lost it I was having so much fun I don’t think I stopped smiling for days after. It was everything I believed it would be. John went all out on his guitar work. I had never heard his playing open up like that. My simple dreams were coming true and I was alone. I followed my hero to the Garden and suddenly these places were real. Nobody experienced this with me. The main lesson I learned in that weekend is that you don’t need other people to validate what makes you happy. You can find happiness on your own just like you can find a constant black hole of depression and anxiety alone.
About six months after the trip had passed and I pulled up John’s snapchat account. He began to snap that he was making his way to Coachella. “I don’t have any friends going with me, but that’s a pretty shitty reason to skip something you really want to do isn’t it?” John Stated. I had to laugh at the post because the man indirectly influenced that frame of thinking in my mind months before hand.
In the year since that first night at the Garden I have gone to see The 1975 at Redrocks in Denver. I saw Adele at Xcel Energy Center. I saw Dead and Company front row in East Troy, WI. I saw Phish at Xcel before ever hearing a single Phish song all by myself. I occasionally get severely depressed thinking I don’t have people who want to experience these things with me, but the experience itself always overwrites that depression with joy.
Year 26 has been the best year of my life because a part of me has been able to let go and accept that being alone is okay. I have branched out and put experiences to the things I see in magazines and on TV. If you really want to experience a place or event just do it. You never know when your heart will stop beating, and after all not going because nobody else wants to is a pretty shitty reason to miss out on something you want to see.