Monday, March 19, 2018

Good/Bad Delay

Be good, have someone, self-improvement becomes a back-burning ember. Be dating, have a few close friends, suddenly writing seems less important, getting out more feels less persuasive, this is a trap, because in 10 years you will still be degree-less and publication-less and then what? The frustration will bubble up like it always does. We sit on our butts when comfortable with the people we have knowing often it was the discomfort that led us to said people. The room becomes messier because their rooms are messier, so why bother? Someone talks about moving to Chicago and while it's still way too cold and not tropics like you dream of it's also one of your favorite cities in the country, so why not? And then you fear sitting in your room sad and glum while everyone around you moves up, more income, more prestige, more smiles, the trips you once had now gone and you try to smooth over the wrinkles, metaphor or otherwise, with affectations and confirmations of appreciation and late night dinners and kisses but what does it matter? The writing is dry, the skin is dry, the pork you brought out of the freezer is dry. Replace the disappointment of grades and loneliness and puberty and acne and fear and the unknown with all of the same, sub out grades for jobs and puberty for aging, they're all the same really, and you get the picture. How to afford what you can afford. How to afford to be good enough. How to afford such a reduced social circle. How to afford a car. How to afford living with yourself.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

i clung to the thought of drowning alone

From 5th grade through 8th grade, once a week, everyone in class had to memorize an assigned poem and recite it, we received a grade then on our performance; memorization, intonation, cadence, etc. I aced every single one for 4 years straight. Teachers complimented me. I would ignore the poem until Thursday night (we recited on Friday) and learn it all in like 10 minutes and be done, razor sharp memory making it a breeze. I knew every Friday I could count on a 100% on a class assignment and there were even some poems I liked.

My sophomore year of high school in Honors English our final involved writing an essay drawing a thematic arch through the books we had read (mine ended up being about the decline of America represented by the path of literature from early romance to late post-modernism, and everything in between). I knew that would be easy because essays were easy, and as my friend Eli and I discussed in class (we got to work in groups to bounce ideas) I could hear the essay coming together in my head, the ideas coming, specific quotes from books I wanted to use.

The 2nd part of the final would be to recite a Walt Whitman poem of our choosing. I knew that would be easy because it always was. My poem was 12 lines long. I had learned poems three times that before. I had learned sprawling parts from Romeo & Juliet and A Christmas Carol and more. I knew band class before English (the last class of the day) was free, because it was the end of the year and nothing left was going to happen, so while some friends played card games using the covered timpani drums as tables I took out my Walt Whitman book and went to work. About 15 minutes later, I could recite it perfectly. My friends asked me to for them. I did so. The poem was fittingly about death and rotting in the ground and cow manure.

I got to English class ready to basically ace the fuck out of everything. I was third to recite. I had been saying it under my breath. I was going to nail it. I got up in front of the class.

I forgot everything.

I forgot the first word. The teacher gave it to me. I got a few words in then. She queued me again.

Every. Single. Line.

I finally sat down, having completely and utterly fucked up the poetry recitation, and the teacher stood up and gave me a sympathetic look and said it is very hard to do, in front of everyone, and she gets how difficult it can be.

It never had been. Now it was. And as I sat there as she explained the difficulties of anxiety I realized then that I was getting worse. Everyone was getting better as they aged but I wasn't. My grades were worse. My friendships were worse. My anxiety was worse. My depression was worse.

A few years later I read the essay I wrote for the English final. I was aghast at how horrific it was, poorly paced, lacking detail, unclear, over-dramatic. It even ended on an ellipses. I deleted it from the computer and tried to never think about it again. English was my sweet-spot but it was clear even my sweet-spot was devoid of actual quality and achievement, just good enough to dangerously convince myself briefly I could do something, like write, that I never really could. Maybe I always knew that if nothing else. Maybe...

The other day I was so anxious about a phone interview for a new job that I spent the leadup pacing around in the basement telling myself it'd be ok. My partner texted me to tell me I'd nail it. I think I did. the phone interview went well. It's easy to be courteous and professional and I never paused or hesitated in my answer. The interviewer told me they'd call back early to mid week next week. It's now two weeks later. They never called. I am back in English class again.

Every single thought I have is manipulative. The other day The Onion ran an article "Woman All Geared Up To Complain About Work Sidelined By Friend With Marital Problems" and I feel that is how I view everything and then I hurt people for it. Last night I fucked up profusely and then was cold and distant and aloof like this dude at work once said I was, or I don't push through like my best friend said I never do when they need me to, and then I hurt people because of it, which is the last thing I want to do. I fuck up and then someone at work berates me on the phone or a friend distances themselves or a partner and I have conflict and it fits because I fuck up everything, but I can't say that because then it sounds like I am fishing for compliments and trying to get them to apologize and play soft and feel guilty but that's not the intent. I just fuck up everything. It's that simple. It's the one and only thing I know at this point. I think I already said that in another paragraph. I'm not keeping count. Everyone I have ever known could do better than me. Could find someone more communicative, better looking, smarter, more caring, better at making decisions, at overcoming fear or apathy. I bring down everyone I know and then by saying all of this they reach out to help in way I don't know how and then it all becomes about me. My best friend has an inoperable heart defect that increases her chance of dying in pregnancy substantially - in a country that already paces the wealthy world grotesquely in that regard - is on 7 pills a day for unrelated health issues, is being tested for carotid artery disease, and is now pregnant. Her post partum depression last time, when she survived the birth and all, was so bad she is scared horribly about the possibility again. She asked me how I was doing and I said ok and that was a bit of a lie but I had to because she needed me right then, and I hate lying and strive to never ever do it but she was at panic attack level and needed to rant more than anything and I wanted and want to be there for her. I am the 2nd person after her husband who knows. I still don't know if saying I was ok was right. I suppose I am always "ok." I'm here, aren't I? The last time I said I wasn't ok I freaked people out, so what do I know.

I could try to sit in the car and explain to my partner how someone as smart and caring and compassionate and funny as her could do so much better than me, because I am broken and I always will be, and now that we've fought twice in like 5 days I fear I am going to keep giving her these anxieties and she could have someone better. But then that's manipulative and cruel and removes her agency and sounds like I want to leave for her sake and that's not the intention nor the truth. And now with her worrying about class and work and conflict and her mom and her mom's manipulativeness I could just hoist all this on her plate and then she could be so overwhelmed, beyond what she might already be. I have been battling suicide now for 15 years. I have hated myself for over 20. She has walked into the life of someone fucked up so badly that when she needs someone I freeze up and become a distant structure and then they're stuck doing emotional labor when they just want to be held, and then if I tell them everything I am saying here they're stuck with someone as deeply flawed and emotionally exhausting as me, worried about me like my mom is worried about me for the rest of her life. I suppose my partner probably said some things that hurt me but I told her later on the sofa I couldn't remember much of anything she said that was bad, or in general, which is horrifying but true, because anxiety fucks with my memory like Xanax does, unable to remember anyone's name when we first meet and not on Xanax because I am so nervous, unable to remember anyone's name when we first meet and I am on Xanax because I am so drug-addled. So maybe she didn't for all I know. Maybe she really was great. She pretty much always is. I have just forgotten what I shouldn't forget. I am back in English class again.

I know I probably did the most damage, like I did two weekends ago when I admitted to my friend I blacked out on Xanax and alcohol, like I drunk texted my partner, like I admitted to my travel buddy what had happened and he thought I was better and I had to tell him that I think since mid December I've been kind of down again. I feel the desire to run away and isolate myself so that I can hurt nobody but myself and if I do that and nobody knows me then I can't hurt them, but the irony is that will hurt people too. I know at times my depression has been better, for periods that have made it seem like it was entirely gone, and the 24/7 desire to end it all is gone, and this May is 4 years free of self-harm, which I genuinely feel good about and cite it as a success, but I know it flares up chronically and I look over my shoulder at my shadow constantly and I know even if at times the depression is sort of distant like I often am, the self-hate will not be. And now everybody has to worry if I could go off, if they aren't nice enough, etc., because I have no spine and no assertiveness and have to be coddled or I will overreact and that will be that, I can't give out criticism or take it, I can't name desires or wants, subverted them for so long I am unfamiliar and scared with saying them to the point that I find the thought impossible, which again just hurts other people and chases them away, going back to high school when Kathryn rolled her eyes at me because I just kept saying I don't care when she asked where a group of us should have dinner. And clearly I haven't learned because it's 11 years later. At some point I have to be better. People have every right to expect it. I know that expectation will never be met.

I remember how years ago after cutting myself with scissors I painstakingly researched the sharpest razorblades I could buy online, edges so terse and fine that they removed any need for pressure. Because like all things my instinctive reaction to fucking up is to try to get better, but since I never seem to, I just punish and hurt myself instead since I deserve it.

This morning people commented on my eyes. They were red and bloodshot from not getting enough sleep. I made the decision not to and it was the right decision because I was hungry and wanted to be with my partner but I suppose repercussions are a facet of existence. I was yelled in the general direction of on the phone by someone this morning and then so anxious about the conflict last night that I reached into my pocket to take Xanax only to realize I didn't have it on me. So then I reached for chapstick and pulled out a Tide-To-Go stain remove tube that I must have thought in the dark this morning was chapstick on my nightstand and grabbed without thinking, which is amazing because I often overthink to the point of paralysis but apparently when I underthink I just mess up too. My partner and I texted and I was doing better and then I learned my best friend is pregnant and freaking out and now I have 8 months of extra worrying until birth (I say extra because I already have a lot going around, as per usual) and a few months after that of additional worrying about her mental health, which I guess I was already worried about because she's been in a bad place lately. I've lost enough people now though that I guess I can say I am a bit more experienced now, just unable still to process it like anything really. I suppose we all have been in a bad place lately. Maybe it's contagious, deaths of despair skyrocketing, drug epidemic out of control, life expectancy declining year after year, anger at anyone and everyone boiling over and vented via racism and sexism as per usual I suppose.

I don't know how to talk well nor write well and I can't succeed at anything I try and even the things I like I am no good at, and I can't get my thoughts across and I focus so much on being right and perfect that I go off in my head when I need to be present. I write this with the full intention of sharing it but I know it will be painful and ugly and scary and I guess I have the 2nd one of those on lockdown already so why not try to do parts one and three.

I've had distance permanently intervene so often lately that the few people I have to talk to are my only lifeline and I feel that pressure on them could build one day until it becomes manipulative on my part because like I said, every thought I have is and every paragraph of this entry is.

There is no home I will feel comfy in, no body size I will feel comfy in, no social situation I will feel comfy in, no number of friends I will feel comfy with. I will perpetually wonder if I just need a Xanax IV bag pumping benzos into my system to get through existence, praying to a God I don't believe in that somehow, tolerance is a myth. And I won't remember anything but maybe that would be for the best, because I dwell on the bad way more than the good anyways. I wonder if I still have growing up to do but I also wonder how long it will take and I am almost 30 and can't really use that excuse anymore.

Now that this and the other 4 auto-biographical blog posts exist I suppose I have said everything I need to say since my fiction writing is long done and exhausted and my ideas emptied, and I want to apologize for it to everyone it will hurt but I don't know what to say. The Sunday after I blacked out my first Tweet read "I am a fuck up in every way" and that's the one and only thing I am right about. Everyone in my life I have loved in some way and some have loved me but they had no reason to and given what I do to myself and them why should they? There's only so many times you can expect someone to put up with your exhausting foibles and struggles and breakdowns before they have to look out for themselves first and foremost. I cried at work a few times today, I've done it before and I am sure a lot of people have. My anxiety has been so bad I've sweat to the point I probably smell like shit, luckily I shower twice a day in an effort to try to corral any sense of normalcy from my body.

I no longer have the money to travel and I suppose it takes more than 7 job applications to make much progress but it's funny to me in a way that I am simultaneously overqualified, perhaps, for fast food when a manager sees my application, but underqualified, without any degree, for everything else, caught in between with skills that have atrophied like they did starting back in high school and knowing my parents know deep down I will never make as much as they do or afford myself the luxuries they can or buy anything but 10 year old used cars until they fall apart on me suddenly and without warning like always. Like my relationships of any kind have lately, although I have to assume it was my fault at this point, that I said or did something wrong, like usual, or that I became too much for people because I am simultaneously too much pain and too little human and only hurt and self-destruct to all who I know. And I probably damaged my car too by being cheap and not fixing things right away, which is fitting I guess because there's a metaphor in there. I used to think I should never date because nobody should put up with me, my mental health, my looks, my lack of intelligence. I guess maybe it was a mistake to push that aside.

My senior year of high school opened with the same English teacher I had in the sophomore year when I failed to recite the Walt Whitman poem. I loved English classes more than any others. I once told that teacher I enjoyed life when we were talking about existentialism and I said I didn't believe in destiny or a higher being and Addison said in response that was depressing. I said it was freeing and empowering and I derived said life enjoyment from that. It was all true. Fifteen minutes later I was walking down the hall to my next class and it hit me that maybe I was wrong. Did I really enjoy life? I didn't know that I did. I didn't mean to lie or be dishonest, I just blurted out what came, and it felt right, but now I had doubts. A few months later, I started self-harming for the first time in my life. I guess it was just one more thing I didn't know. Today I write this personal essay if for nothing else but to try to clear my head. It is not an assignment to turn in, but I suppose it's vaguely English-y in the sense it is written and contains words and a loose fitting narrative.

On a whim this morning I logged into Amazon and went to my order history. I typed in the word "razor." I learned that I bought the blades I used to self-harm in July 2014, which was more recent than I thought, which means that all the times I said I will soon be 4 years clean, including earlier in this post, were wrong. Because I used the razors to self-harm. Multiple times. So now I don't know. Maybe it's 3 years. I guess I'll never know for sure. Just like I said 9 days ago on this blog I'll never know anything. I guess it's just one more thing I didn't know. I thought I did. I looked at the Amazon page for the product. Their price had increased by about a dollar - 10 Feather brand double-edged stainless steel razor blades - from $4.30 to $5.34. I placed them in my cart and paid the extra couple bucks for one day shipping. I am back in English class again.

Monday, March 5, 2018

All That I Know is All I Don't Know

At the boba tea café a man brought his PS4 and Xbox One in an overstuffed backpack he had adorned with anime women in bikinis. He played Street Fighter on the big screen TV near our table and corrected someone sharply when they mispronounced the character name Blanka. He went back to playing after correcting the patron. His friend Ed whose parents were born in China asked if he could play. Ed called the Blanka corrector "Zimbabwe Man."

Zimbabwe Man agreed to the proposal.

They played Street Fighter while Helen talked about her Twitch stream and talked about how much harassment she received as a woman on stream, and after talking about it for awhile, a newcomer approached her after ordering a drink for himself and they exchanged names and he said "nice to meet you, miss," and she said "did you just assume my gender?" even though she had made it patently clear throughout the night. Ed laughed and then asked Helen if she was on the spectrum having overheard it all in amidst getting his ass kicked by Zimbabwe Man. Helen didn't understand the question.

"Are you autistic? I took an online test once. It said I was," Ed spoke, as he scrolled through the roster of fighters to choose for his rematch.

The other day a white person dropped the n word rapping along to a song and spent forever apologizing to me and I didn't know what to say. A few days earlier I had told them I cut a friend out of my life because they bragged about Trump on election night and dropped the n word. The friend I cut out was white too, but that goes without saying. In that moment I felt the person who rapped the word owed me nothing, because we were in a car and she was quoting a song, even though I know I would never do it, and then I had to grapple with my own values and how I project and choose to forgive or not. They were apologetic and I didn't know what to say because I never do. I forgive everyone really, I don't say that to pat myself on the back but maybe to try to excuse things. The only person I don't forgive is myself and I've hurt myself more than anyone else so maybe that's fitting. I know she's a better person than I am, warm and caring and intelligent. Those are the things that matter. Now I worry if I am writing too much. If I am worrying too much. If I am too much.

Over the weekend I didn't drop the n word but I took four Xanax and drank a lot of bourbon that was 50% alcohol and then a beer that was 18% alcohol even though I vowed to myself and someone who cares about me I'd never ever mix like that again, because I used to do it all the time and then I got taken advantage of and that was that. I didn't drop the n word even when drunk because I never do but I blacked out and nothing woke me up and someone seriously thought I might die, so I suppose the sliding scale of harm we inflict on each other and ourselves is perpetually cranked up to 10, and I messed up worse than rapping I think but what do I know, I'm white and privileged and maybe this is my weakness, that I will never know anything and fumble around until I stumble into a wall and it falls on me and I can be the guy who bragged only ever about speed reading but didn't read the sign then and there that said the wall was unstable and not to touch it, but I was drunk or anxious and looking at the ground and that's how I missed the sign and ended up crushed to death by bricks.

"Zimbabwe Man" is black and from New York. He says he loves the nickname and uses it to refer to himself all the time, and tells other people to call him it, so I guess it's true. His parentage is Caribbean and French and from there he doesn't know. He has moved a lot, besides New York, he's lived in Detroit and Traverse City and St Louis and Cleveland and Atlanta, and says he thinks he finally found a place to love in Grand Rapids. I hope some day I can find that too. A home I feel I can love. Maybe I never will, and that's the problem. I dream about waking up to palm trees and tropics and my window open all night, not nightmares and stink bugs and grey skies and small towns and the fact that I am still the same person in the same place I have been for too long. I have this idea that I can be better off lonely in a big city than a small one, but I suppose loneliness is a killer all the same and nothing will ever be good enough, and I'll end up driving home late at night sullen and upset in LA or Chicago or New Orleans or New York the same as here, except traffic will be relentless and I'll be too self-conscious to sing in my car surrounded by other traffic at all times. I like when I know someone has my back but I also fear that renders me lazy, that if I live with roommates or a partner in a big city one day I won't reset and go out and meet people and then when I fuck up and they leave or I move somewhere else I'll be back at square one. Perpetually at square one, like always, people taking leaps of faith I don't have, leaving when I should have long ago, trying to make new friends knowing that everything is impermanent except the weight on our shoulders of bad experiences, only lifted when our eyes shut for the last time and the world spins on unaware of our meager existence. Maybe I'll never get over the fact that I finally made friends again and now they are all gone and I am back at square one. It's square one for a reason, because it's the same square as always, that I am always in, like my square bedroom or desk or house. I once again have so few people in my life that I am afraid. There are so many people and things I need to learn and see and I feel like I am racing a decaying body to do so, and then I have a bad experience and wonder why I even bother, so I don't, and then that is a bad experience in and of itself, the not bothering. "Zimbabwe Man" says he's made more friends in Grand Rapids than all other cities combined. I don't know if that says more about the city or him, but probably him, and I hope he feels that is a success he can build on. I hope one day I can do the same. Maybe it'll be in another city. I don't have much confidence.

When I first got to the boba café Ed recognized me and said it's been awhile and was very welcoming and asked me about life and work and my writing and spoke to me like it hadn't been a few months but just a few days. He smiled a lot and showed genuine interest, and I asked him what he had been up to and he said he was still trying to find what he wanted from life and I chuckled and said "me too, buddy, me too." He got up mid-convo to play Street Fighter with the man not from Zimbabwe who still used it as his name. I don't know what to call him in real life other than Nate. That is his actual name.

Matt joined us at the table and then started talking about everything and anything, and before I knew it nobody could get in a word edgewise because Matt had to prove a point on everything. Gun violence got brought up and he started going on about how we can't worry because we're more likely to die in a car crash than by a gun (false, in a vacuum; more Americans die per year to the latter by 10-20% depending on the source used, but they all agree it's more), or even by a tornado (stupendously false), and early on they were honest mistakes so I didn't say anything but as they night carried on I realized they were less honest mistakes and more attempts to brag and show off intelligence and neither me nor Ed nor anyone else could start a sentence without him leaping in. He went on a speech about social anxiety and how people struggle with talking with it because they're expected to react right away in most conversations. Laugh at a joke immediately. Nod or agree to a statement without pause. And that this group was great because you could wait a long time before formulating a response and nobody would judge you. I waited all nigh to formulate a response, to get to say anything. I never did. Matt mentioned several times how he owned two houses, one in Lansing and one in Muskegon. He also owned two cars. He also was going to Portland for a week. And had just been in New York. He said Queens was beautiful. I asked him if he saw Brooklyn. He said no. I told him it was fun. He grunted in response.

Matt sat next to Neal who was older (upper 30s) and dressed in a tie and had a fancy IT job. By the end of the night, we all knew this. He told us many times. We knew how his boss was a narcissist. We knew how Neal had to solve everything. I guess we also knew that Neal, who was married, kept hitting on Helen and sitting with his legs spread wide open and Helen laughed and smiled and so did he and what do I know I suppose. His pants were tight. At one point Helen touched his shoulder. He had about 14 years on her. My dad has 7 years on my mom. I don't know what any of this means. I once met someone from Tinder who lied and said they were older than they were on their profile but didn't tell me until we were face to face.

Later on 8 of us went to a kava bar and a band of 4 white dudes played and sang reggae and one had dreads and they all vaped profusely, smoke rings blown into the air, eyes closed and smiles on their lips. Ed the Chinese American clapped and the man known as Zimbabwe Man hooted and hollered and drew a beautiful sketch of the four musicians. The man in dreads had a lovely voice and played guitar very well. The lyrics weren't that great but 4 young adults sat up front and made jokes about wanting to bang them as the night wore on and people had more and more kava. One person in ripped jeans wolf whistled at them. Their friend said "get it gurl."

Chris left shortly before I did. He hugged Ed and Helen and everyone else and they said they'd see each other soon and that they liked his bright yellow jacket. He smiled and said school was kicking his butt right now but really liked these hangouts. He was in grad school for counseling. He wants to work with people dealing with substance abuse. He didn't drink any kava.

A few weeks ago at a bar a woman I had never met kept putting her hand on my shoulder right away, when we first started talking, and it didn't upset me but it seemed presumptive. Or maybe I am weird. Around grade 5 I stopped hugging my parents as much as possible. I can't even remember the last time I hugged my sister. I don't even know that I ever can really remember doing so. At a bar in Washington DC years ago me and my friend were getting drunk and two women approached us to talk and everyone was hugging each other and then the blonde next to me became hard to hear as the bar filled up so I started putting my hand on her shoulder to lean in thinking it was alright, we had hugged and high fived and all, and truthfully I couldn't hear a goddamn thing and my voice was going raspy. It was the first time I touched someone in context like that, as platonic as it was. Later that night after we got pizza she looked at her phone and said her boyfriend would be mad that she never texted him all night. Her voice had changed and briefly, right then, her jovial smile and tone were gone. I feared possessiveness on the other end, but that was unfair and maybe her boyfriend was kind and great and just wanted to make sure she made it home ok. She invited us to brunch the next day. I texted her at about 10:00am asking if she still wanted to meet up for brunch. There was no response. I promised to never touch anyone again.

The girl who kept putting her hand on my shoulder left at about 9pm that night, she smiled as she said goodbye. I never saw her again.

Late at night at the kava bar, Neal asked Ed about the autism test he cited and said you can't trust any online tests, because that's stupid. Ed tilted his head. "It was a legit test," he said, "my doctor told me to take it. So you can eat my ass." He paused. "Kidding about that last bit, I know saying I took an online test sounds weird." Neal forced a laugh. It was clearly fake.

After about 20 minutes I realized I had spoken to nobody in that time and my one attempt to talk when someone asked about the history of the word Cacao/Cocoa got ignored so I texted someone and told them I was trying to extricate myself and that the entire atmosphere of the group changed and that was true, what was once safe and comfy and approachable now felt foreign and edgier and like I was out of place. I was the only one not laughing and talking and smiling.

I was going to hang out again the next evening, Saturday. One person had a bunch of friends from the east side of the state coming to see her and the group, and there would be 20 of us at a bar. I decided not to go, and then I ended up with 4 Xanax and a lot of alcohol, so I guess I got the liquor in my system either way, but it's funny that looking back if I had just sucked it up and went and been uncomfortable I wouldn't have blacked out on benzos and alcohol for the first time in months, but then I remembered how upset I was driving home Friday night at myself and people and feeling isolated so maybe I still would have either way. I can't construct a future or past much less a night out on the town for a few hours. I don't remember anything much from Saturday night. There's a long text log to various people. I know I talked to some. I don't know what I said. I apologized and they all said I was actually perfectly polite and fine and didn't say anything bad other than I was pretty chatty but the not knowing eats at me. Other than the apologies Sunday morning I haven't talked to several people I spoke to that night since. I don't know when next I will. Maybe never. That's the wrong decision I know. But I suppose I've been good at wrong decisions. I write about these things and people and sometimes wonder. If people knew they'd be in a silly blog at some destitute corner of the internet, would they behave the same? Even anonymized, names and proper nouns changed, how would they feel? Someone on Twitter once joked about not knowing writers because you'll end up in their stories. I'm not a writer. I never claimed to be one. But here I am, writing in a blog, so maybe I am, and maybe we all are, because we all journal or sing or write stories or poems or arrange fridge magnets and we all try to communicate in ways that feel impossible and foreign at times and necessary at others. Maybe it's true that we are all vapid bullies online in ways we aren't in real life, but then I hear everything that has happened 'in real life,' and I know the internet is just an extension of it, and pain and abuse and addiction can happen anywhere and everywhere, and most all of who I know were victimized by people not via Twitter or Facebook but through the day to day aspects of our social life, our existence, or workplace, our house, our friends.

I've thought a lot about the last few nights and how I feel stuck between observing and not contributing, and maybe the former is all that I am good at. I've had people I just met open up to me about trauma and drug abuse and rape and horrible things over the years, often within minutes of conversation, and I wonder if that's how everyone is or if my quietness lends to the belief that I can be trusted with said stories. It doesn't weigh on me or upset me, I like meeting people and for some reason I like first dates and late night talks over drinks or whatever. Maybe everyone just wants someone to talk to. Maybe that's why Matt spoke so much. In between his two houses and trips to either coast he truly had nobody to talk to. Maybe the guitar player wore dreads because he liked them. Maybe he is the privileged stereotype we expect. Maybe he isn't. I guess I'll never know. Maybe I'll never really know if jokes about autism tests and Zimbabwe nicknames and gender references are something some people get comfy with. I used to have a queer friend who said he and his other queer friends had an 'anything goes' attitude and called each other the f slur all the time, and then when people not in their circle called them it they were so used to it they shrugged it off and didn't let it bother them. The friend used to self harm. He disappeared from my life long ago. Maybe we can't speak for anyone but ourselves and even then we're so wrapped up in our fears and anxieties we can't do that, so we try to project and talk about weighty subjects and hope that gets you someone to come home with or if nothing else a smile and a nod and some validation.

I live in a town where I can painfully picture every single way I used to want to kill myself in it, and that scares me a bit, and I feel like I now scare other people, and that I have been a bad person for it, for acting like I can't care for myself as much as I can care for others, or like I want to get out any way possible, whether it's benzos or moving somewhere warm or just hiding in my room all weekend. I feel deep down that I am such a fuck up that everyone could do better than knowing me, except me, because a fuck up like me deserves to be stuck with me. My mom told me recently that she will spend her entire life now worried about me taking my own life, and I suppose I can see why, but the weight of expectations and her sadness just makes me hide even more. I fear hurting everyone more than anything unless it's myself, and the irony is that in doing so, I hurt other people. Maybe I'll wake up not to palm trees but to myself more and more until one day I realize that's just how it is, and at least I have a full bed to myself, and a pizza to myself, and can meet people if I want but it's not that easy, and I'll feel bad if I eat the whole pizza, and the bed feels cold and distant when nobody else occupies it after awhile, even if I can roll around in my horrific nightmares guilt free, and the people are getting older and less brash and coupling up and the dive bars and hipster music fests and hostels are so passé now that we're about work and marriage and Waxhatchee's Swan Dive. I fear losing people closest to me, and I try to do my best and I've gotten better, self harming now 4 years in the past, 8 months clean of benzos and alcohol wiped out but ready to start clear again, scared to admit what I admit, unsure what I want or need, trying to be kind and listen and learn and go from there and if it's enough for someone that's great but I don't know if it ever will be, or if it matters even if it's not enough for me, or maybe that's what I need because someday it'll get me to rebuild and reset, this idea that right now I am not my username on this silly blog that is, like all things - or Mike or Neal or Ed - screaming into the void. I fear my lack of degree and how my income is capped and how I've spent thousands of dollars on my jaw and mouth and car lately that was meant for late night drinks and sunsets in Asia or Europe or something, hole burnt through I can't get back, staring at my bank account aghast that it's the smallest it has been since I was 18 or 19, the desire to pawn off my guitar (I'll never be good at and don't practice enough) or video games (same) stronger than ever. I tell people on the phone or face to face that I don't know anything and it is true, I know nothing, don't know what I should know, and struggle to grasp the reality I want to construct, or what to say, so I say I don't know and it's honest but at some point I need an answer. I hope one day I find one. I've had people tell me I am nice and kind and caring and cute and I believe them because they don't lie but I want to be better and more and stop falling short. Some people care deeply about me and it feels nice and I want some people I know in my life forever but nobody ever has been so why should I expect things will change? Or maybe saying that is self-defeating and selfish and terrible so I don't know. Maybe everybody deserves better than me. Maybe we're all assholes, myself included. I don't know anything. Remember?

I told someone the other day I think deep down I hate my parents. I felt awful admitting it. They always loved and supported me and never abused me. I lived in a household more safe and secure than many. So maybe I'm just fucked up for thinking this. But they tried to choose everything for me, my friends, my clothes, my classes, and succeeded, threatened to hospitalize me or ground me at a moment's notice, screamed at me for anything less than a 4.0, ripped Star Wars books out of my hands and said it was a waste of time to read them. They sent me to Australia and I love them for it but I also live in their shadow, they still try to know everything about me, and I am so scared to make a single decision because they always did for me as a kid, and the very few times they let me choose something as small as dinner, or a shirt, they shot me down and said I was wrong, so I trained myself to just accept whatever anyone wanted, and never make my own decision, and never accept anything less than perfection as good enough, and let them control me, or let anyone else do so, like friends or coworkers or whatever, and now I am lost to it, and I feel bad just writing this, but I feel bad knowing that I will never be perfect, or never really say what I want, and live with that forever, a ghost, like I have been, whatever anyone wants me to be, and I hope that's enough for them. I told a friend once if I had a button to press that made them happy forever and me depressed forever I'd press it without hesitation, and the world isn't zero sum like that but they didn't understand how I could want that. Maybe I will just drag down whoever I know with me. Maybe we all do and we're clawing at each other constantly to get out when if we just all lifted at the same time we could. Maybe shitty metaphors are really lazy and inelegant and muddy things more than they clarify (they are bad, and I hate them, so chalk up one more thing about this I hate).

On Sunday I woke up and a bunch of pictures were posted of the 20 person strong group at the bar that I didn't go to. In the photo, 19 of them are smiling and looking at the camera. I see Neal and Chris and Ed and Helen and they all look happy between drinks and Jenga and Cards Against Humanity, and I know how easy it is to fake because for a long time that's all I did, but there's a genuine quality to their smiles that feels real, that feels apparent, that even a still, relatively context-less photo captures. And then I wonder if I should have gone, again, and if I could have smiled too, or if I would have been the second person who wasn't, and if I would have driven home upset at myself for forcing for a second time something that wasn't going to work, now even more frustrated and distraught. Maybe some day I'll be better. Maybe that's the wrong way to look at things. Maybe we just change and grow and some things get better and some worse and we try to live with what does. I feel like I am better than I once was. I've made tangible improvements. Big ones. Maybe that will one day be enough for myself. I think it's enough for a lot of people. Just maybe not me. The one person I am forever stuck with.

Because it's all true about all but one person smiling. I said 19 because one person clearly isn't. She's sitting there looking off in the distance, sullen and almost afraid, her hands in her lap, a dinner in front of her she has barely touched. She is one of the out of town friends who hasn't met any of these people. In the photo, the man who is not from Zimbabwe has his arm wrapped around her shoulders, face leaned in close to hers, large smile on his face, 3 empty cocktail glasses in front of his seat, looking all the world like he has found his home. I don't know what to make of the photo from my phone in bed, other than what I can guess, what I have hinted at, what I believe based on what little I know. Maybe I never will.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Everyone Was Beautiful and Everyone Hurt

it's a different kind of pain, i guess, but it's pain all the same. isolate yourself and feel left out and forgotten and have nobody to reach out to, to do things with, to enjoy things with, eaten up inside by loneliness and boredom and a lack of self-worth, fear of being in public alone, a restaurant, a theatre.

get to know people and then the pain is just in a new form, people you know leaving, dying, struggling under the weight of their own trauma, shared tears aren't so different from alone tears in that everyone involved is crying, worry over the health and well-being of everyone you know, worried about losing them like all the books and movies say you will, fear of having to say goodbye and needing to but never getting the chance, and then all that happens is your back in the restaurant alone, this time with both types of pain on yr shoulders

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Saying Goodbye

This is a true story.

Four years ago I drove westbound on a two-lane highway to the beach. I’d been on the road hundreds of times. My parents always warned me as a teenager to be wary of drunk drivers on it coming back home from a raucous night or weekend in the sand and water. It's about a 45 minute drive all on the same road from here to Lake Michigan, where you can sit on a bench near the sand or on the roof of your car and watch the sun drop over the water and break the surface with its orange and red and yellow and purple evening hues.

There was a tree, a dead tree, about twenty minutes into the drive, just on the outskirts of a small village that was collected along a flashing four-way stop, only a gas station and a few houses and a few old and dilapidated brick buildings nobody ever could tell the status of. A billboard advertising a strip club many, many miles away sat above one of the buildings for years.

The tree was gnarly, twisted, sort of U-shaped but ungainly and pale and uneven, with one wing significantly taller than the other, like a person with one fully outstretched arm to their side at an angle and the other arm too tired to lift as high. I loved that tree. There was something striking about it. It was the only tree for a good hundred feet in any direction, perched just off the side of the road. I always thought about taking a picture of it. It’d make a good album cover, maybe with a washed out filter and containing a bunch of sad indie tracks about life and travel and the loneliness of the open road. I’d always convince myself there’d be another time, that I could take the picture next summer, and then next summer would come and I’d put it off again, and I kept putting it off. After several years, I still hadn’t taken a single picture. Not that I was a professional or anything. I’d probably make it look way worse in digital form than it did in real life. And I sure as hell wasn't making an album.

The other day someone told me they loved me for the first time and I didn't really know them at all as a person so I avoided facing it head on and just told them they were good and hoped that cut it as a response. I still don't know what I should feel. Maybe we never do. Everything takes forever until it happens and then it happens too fast and all at once. 

Someone I used to talk to quite a bit and eat pizza with unfriended me on Facebook in the past month. I last saw them in September on a late Tuesday night for a quick bite to eat, them frazzled at working two jobs at near minimum wage, a commonality amongst many I know in this generation, work weeks elongating until they dwarf all other modes of existence and sleep and job is all you know. I was sort of sad at it but I also knew our values were in somewhat different places, and they had said some things that made me uncomfortable, but it was still weird to see another person disappear into the aether, nothing more now than a memory that will fade, my meager Facebook friend count depleted by one, still the smallest amongst all that I have friended on it. I never even got to say goodbye. The last words I said to them were "sounds good" after they had said "maybe we can hang out this weekend."

I found three stink bugs in the span of one day in three different rooms, I was surprised, usually they don't show up that much when it's this cold, only when it gets warmer and they all seem to wake up as if it's spring even though there are still many weeks of winter to go. I joke that they are the only truly unintelligent creatures on the entire planet, but I think that might be true, you can pick them up and they don't move and you can drop them outside or in a toilet and I don't think they ever have a sense of the impermanency of their existence. Maybe that makes them enlightened, and I have misjudged the entire situation and spectrum of intelligence they wield.

Perhaps we're constantly dealing with a sense of impending crisis as if there isn't time to do something, and maybe that's true and maybe it's not. You're statistically likely to live to age 80 or so but you don't know for sure, and you do know you can't do at age 60 what you can at 20 or 30, you do know that the hostel you stayed at in Chicago years ago had a bunch of people and the max age of anyone was 29, and that's basically you now, so I guess that's a thing.

Desperation often drives you to either hole up and not deal with the sense of impending crisis or to just go for it because you have nothing to lose, I guess it depends on how it presents itself and how you react to it, which is true of many things I suppose. It got that way with me. Maybe it always was. My reaction just slowly changed. Or maybe I did. Is there a difference?

Someone performed spoken word poetry in the kitchen the other day while dinner was cooking and it was very good, they had a sense of intonation and passion and comfort and the imagery the poem opened with was melancholy and immediate. I took three poetry classes through high school and college. Sometimes I wonder if I should have gotten into it more given my love of music; I don't really ever write or read it, but then I remember how bad I am at writing fiction even having done that my whole life and decide perhaps I don't need to spread myself even thinner when there is nothing there to spread in the first place.

I made myself a promise that I held onto for over a decade that a Tuesday early next year would be my last day on the planet, if I even made it that far, lived that long, I certainly tried to prevent myself from doing so in my earlier years. I don't know how to feel about it being so close now, that it's next year, relatively soon. I no longer have the same immediate fatality around the day, but it's strange, and I know it will be a hard day, like they always are.

Early October last year was surprisingly warm. Summer had its tendrils into fall and it made being outside perfectly comfortable without a jacket much later than it usually was. So I decided to go for it, like I had gone for some things over the last few years but still not enough, perpetually feeling like improvement existed but was fleeting and nothing would be good enough for me. There's a tenuousness to adult relationships and in the last week two things cancelled I was supposed to go to and be with people at, in both cases because of the weather, so I guess chalk up one more reason to hate this place. Kidding, the weather has always been one. So yeah, like I said, I went for it. I was alone at home, it was after work, and I had nothing better to do. I grabbed my phone, my keys, threw on a hoodie, and made my way out to my car. If I timed this right, I could get a photo of the tree with the setting sun as the background. It would be everything I could have ever wanted and more. The red and orange and purple hues sprayed out across the sky above and behind the withered, decayed tree, vibrant and lively set against dead and decrepit.

The drive was uneventful. At this time of year, even with it being mild, nobody was headed to the beach. The 2 lane highway was decidedly quiet. I reached the 4-way stop village that the tree sat just outside of, passed through, and… didn’t see it. I shook my head. Am I misremembering things? Is it farther along? I drove. For five minutes. Then ten. I didn’t see it. It was impossible to miss, as close to the road as it was. I turned my car around and came back. I slowed down just outside the village, where the tree should be. My heart sank. There, lying in the tall grass, was the tree, toppled over, nothing left standing but a white stump in the ground. I pulled my car over and got out, walking through grass that reached to my knees. The tree itself looked the same as ever, each curve and weathered bruise was intact, but time and wind had done its damage. It no longer stood like it had for years, and my procrastination had cost me a simple photo that I could have taken any summer for the past several.

I didn't know how to feel then. I wanted to kick the tree, to yell, to cry, feeling a hundred things all at once, many of them not even tangentially related to a mere inanimate object. I didn't even know why I was so emotional. It was just a tree. But it's more than just the tree in that moment. It's a missed opportunity, a delayed thing. This was so simple. Twenty minutes. And maybe the photo would have been no good and maybe I would have forgotten it but the harm was... what? Feeling a bit anxious standing on the side of the road taking a photo? I mean right now you are crying over a dead tree. Crying. Over a dead tree. In the grass. Surely that is the worst outcome here?

I tried to convince myself otherwise. I was never a photo taker. I was bad at trips and shows, more interested in my eyes than the screen, bad at holding my hands steady and bad at uploading photos or revisiting them anyways. It would have looked much worse on a screen than the combination of the lighting then and my eyes and the values I had imbued it with created. But it still stung. Because the opportunity, for better or worse, was now gone. The tree had fallen over, and would never get back up. And if I couldn't do this, how was I supposed to take the proverbial photo, take the proverbial drive, for something in life much harder, much more important, much more time constrained?

I turned my head and looked toward the setting sun. The colours flared across the sky like cans of paint had simply been thrown against the atmosphere. I looked back at the tree. It didn’t look as haunting now, as peculiar, as grand. It looked simply dead and forgotten. I thought about how we all shared the same fate. I knelt down and put a hand on the tree.

“Goodbye,” I said.

I drove home. I slept through the evening and night, dreaming of places and people and shores I would never see again.