Best Lessons

Stephen P. Conrad
9 min readJul 7, 2022
Photo on Unsplash

Each of us has a road we must walk down in our lives. For many, the road is straight and predictable, others come to a fork in the road, and they must choose the path they will take for whatever reasons they have at that time. None have the same road laid out in front of us. We all end up on a road that is uniquely our own and we all must travel that road alone.

For better or worse, we deal with what we discover on our road, alone. It’s all about living with choices made and answer for any consequences of our actions. Try as we may to hide from having to make those choices, if we don’t, they will be made for us. The road that is ours is a journey that we need not look for, it will find us like it or not.

Sometimes, we have no idea where that road begins, where it may lead, and we never know where it ends. Often, what we find on our road diverges from anything we are familiar with, changes any idea we had of who we thought we were, and anything we have ever known.

Those who recognize that this journey must be taken have a less painful time navigating it. The road never lies to us it gives us only truths we choose to accept or deny. It doesn’t have to lie to us, no one can lie to us better than we can lie to ourselves.

On my road I’ve learned to live by my own instinct.

I’ve always lived the way I wanted to. Now, I know that I may never get rich doing it, but life has never been boring, and I have far fewer regrets than I ever expected to. I’ve known too many who drew their last breaths full of regrets. I’ve always found passion in my pain and the voids and hardships of my life experiences.

I’ve laughed and I’ve cried; I’ve found those who laugh the hardest are usually the saddest of all. I’ve watched, listened and learned. Speak with my eyes listen with my heart is what I’ve learned. I’ve loved, lost and found again.

On Love

I’ve experienced love, real love, hard love, the kind that hurts in your bones. Wanting a love, I knew I could not have, that physical pain of heartbreak made me stronger.

I’ve known unrequited love, been broken hearted, really broken. Most was by my own doing. I always had a propensity to desire what wasn’t mine, she which I knew I could never have, what was not good for me, or what might have been great, but I knew I could never hold.

Faithful? I’ve never known. I’ve lusted after and cheated more-often-than-not. I’ve been cheated on and surely deserving of it, but I still love madly. My heart has also been shattered and is stitched together by the threads of lessons learned well enough to hold it together. I’m sure, I’ll need more threads of lessons learned to stitch it back together again.

I’ve never raised a hand to any yet and have taken my lumps from a few. I spent an entire childhood watching men beat the women they claimed to love, and I vowed never to be them. Still, childhood experience was a partial cause of emotionally bankruptcy. Which is worse?

I’ve loved most every woman I’ve been with but been each differently, some more than others. I’ve been in real love with just a few.

There are those I should have chased and fought for and did not and those I should have ditched in the middle of the night. The ones I should have run from; a hostage situation disguised as a relationship that sucked the life out of each other as we wallowed in every minute of it.

I’ve had more than my fair share of beautiful women, more than I can count. Then there are the three that got away. One too beautiful, brave, and pure, another too beautiful, full of lust and innocent, the other, too beautiful, wild and unpredictable a real wild card.

Recently an old acquaintance whom I hadn’t seen in a few decades said reminded me, I once taught him a valuable lesson I have long since forgotten. He said, “when we were young guys you once told me that every woman has at least one thing to admire and fall in love with. It may be a walk, a smile, beautiful hair, pretty hands or feet, a smell, a coy way about her, a dimple, a gap in her teeth, or something another guy may not notice. It’s that one thing overpowers any makes any perceived flaw you may find fade away and that’s enough to make you fall in love with her.”

I’ve had the great loves in my life, women, writing, booze and drugs, though not necessarily in that order. It all depended on the time of day and degree of substances ingested to kill my pain. I’ve adored women while in a love affair with booze and drugs none could rival. Sometimes with women who shared the same loves.

I’ve done enough drugs to kill a small farm animal. Any day I could open my eyes was a struggle. I’ve done hard time and soft rehabs and soft stretches in county and detox’s that almost killed me. As for money, I’ve had fists flush with cash, plenty of it, other times I had more lint than coins in my pockets. I’ve learned money only buys things we usually don’t need.

An old hooker once taught me that love might be able to make you money, but money can never buy you love.

At various times I’ve been the good guy, the bad guy and the other guy. It’s all relative.

I’ve always walked that fine line, but I’ve never found myself sorry for it. Regrets? I have few.

No one ever had to tell me how to live, as a young boy I innately knew how to. I wanted to live out loud, without fear or regret. I’ve been a gypsy from the time I could walk. With age and experience I learned how to live every day with intention. I may not have always known what I want but I’ve always known what I didn’t.

I feel bad for those who can say they never lost sight of themselves. If you’ve never been lost, you’ll never have to chance to find yourself. There is something to be said for getting lost in life and forced to discover yourself again. It’s tricky and at times dangerous, but what’s life if you’ve never jumped over the edge?

Standing on the precipice, make the choice to dive in headfirst, it’s sink or swim, do it knowing you may not be able to fight the tide.

Now, you can do this when you’re on your own but it’s harder when you’re responsible to others. One reason I’ve walked alone in this life so often. Sure, it gets lonely but so can being room of full strangers, you thought you knew or worse, never knowing yourself.

‘A straight line is always the quickest way from point A to point B.’ I think my schoolteachers meant for there to be a valuable lesson in there somewhere. It didn’t stick. I had no use for a classroom or the valuable lessons they offered. Whoever coined the phrase ‘valuable lesson’ must have never had any fun. I don’t think I ever walked a straight line. I mean, I suppose I acted as if I did but I never actually did. I always enjoyed a crooked line.

I knew from that first day of school that if you gave them what they wanted they would leave you alone. Play the part, quiet and stupid. Hold your cards close to your vest. Truth be known, I never even had an interest in walking straight line and I didn’t give a shit about getting from A to B. If the point A of my youth sucked, I had zero interest to see what B held for me.

I mean, why couldn’t my teachers just come out and say what they meant to say? I didn’t want any of their good government, good neighbor bullshit. There aren’t really any moral codes to live by and I wasn’t asking for any. I found out all I needed to know about how much morality was worth at home. Keep it simple stupid. Keep it simple.

Pray and Be Saved

The only religion I remember was priests who snuck out back to smoke or sneak a drink and hit on my ma, those few who didn’t like ‘lil boys. Offering rehearsed prayers and false hopes they demanded fake confessions of shit that never happened. They locked you in tiny dark rooms trying to intimidate and scare the fuck out of you. They put the squeeze on you into telling your deepest darkest secrets, the ones they liked to call sins, while they jacked off in the dark.

From a child’s eyes all their morality was built on lies. It only worked when it suited them. Religion? All bullshit spewed by a pervert in a collar conning you into believing it was all gonna be okay for the price of a prayer and a piece of silver. Squeezing you just long enough to get you to drop an envelope in the basket.

Original Sin? Yeah right, get the fuck outta here. Forgive me father for I have sinned, I robbed the house down the street one morning, I made plans to flatten my old man permanently before he knocks ma’s teeth out again or better yet, before he come home drunk again one night and kills all of us. There ain’t many sins I haven’t committed.

Or maybe I whacked off in the sacristy thinking about the second-grade teachers fat ass. What do you want from me?

An angel you say is gonna protect me you say, an Act of Contrition is gonna save me from myself? Better tell that fucking angel to be at my house by sundown before the old man gets home and ma has to eat another knuckle sandwich while we all scream and cry in terror. Maybe the angel will keep the old man from splattering her blood all over our nice, whitewashed walls while he blames his life on all of us. The angel never showed up.

Oh cool, three Hail Mary’s an Our Father and an Act of Contrition and I’m absolved. Well fuckin’-A that easy. I’m gonna stop by here more often. Shit, if that’s all I have to do I’m in, but I still ain’t giving you no quarter. We don’t even have lights on at home and you’re going to put the arm on me for my quarter? Yeah, you can keep that shit.

Some racket huh?

You guys are clowns’ father, it’s all a big scam, even I know that and I’m only seven, the difference is, I’m not a fuckin’ sucker. But I’ll play one to get by. In the meantime, I’m going to take what I want because nobody is going to give it to me. I think I’ll help myself to the collection plate on the way out thank you very much. And there was the birth of a criminal.

Morality lessons huh? Much of my life has been built on moral turpitude. Socially acceptable behavior? Gimme a break. Show me a religious person who lives a life of piety, a cop who isn’t corrupt, or a politician who doesn’t kiss fat babies and I’ll give up all that collection money I robbed. The most corrupt are always in charge of controlling crime and corruption. A real joke.

If I wanted real lessons all I had to do was keep one eye on the adults in the room. Their actions said it all. Hypocrites most of them, that wasn’t hard to figure out. Those guys who were the ones they called the bad guys, at least they were honest about who they were.

My uncles never hid who they were, what they did, nor did they give a fat rats ass if you knew it either. They taught you the real lessons. A killer’s a killer, a thief’s a thief and you leave the good guys alone, unless he gets in your way of course. You love who mean something and care about those who care about you, fuck the rest.

I never wanted to allow others to define who I am. Let me be responsible for that. I have no shame for who I am and few regrets for the things I have done, only those things I have yet to, but there’s still time. There’s always more time, until there’s not.

Walk in the ocean and feel the water wash through your toes.

Live Free, love hard, forgive quickly, accept graciously, laugh often and have no Regrets.

I learned to not dwell on the past, the past hates trespassers. Truth is that the best lessons I ever learned where from the worst people.



Stephen P. Conrad

A nomad, a gypsy at heart, writer, actor, artist, anti-sycophant, socially maladjusted and comfortably near complete insanity.