”Something’s missing in me
I felt it deep within me
As lovers left me to bleed alone
Down here, love wasn’t meant to be
It wasn’t meant to be for me”
”When you close your eyes even then your eyelids are beautiful
for so long there have been traces of you in blood vessels inside my skull”
-Showbread, I Want to get Married
A couple of Saturdays ago, I went to a wedding with an old friend. I didn’t know the married couple and all the attendants were new to me but the friend needed a plus one and borrowed me for the occasion. You see where this is going. I just needed to find something blue.
Despite my anxiety around crowds, especially crowds of strangers, I figured it would be a change of pace. A chance to do something different, to ask off work, and dress up a bit. I just hoped I’d be able to squeeze my binge-eating butt into my old slacks. I did…but barely.
The ceremony itself was fine. It was simple, inside a simple church with simple decoration. No blue sashes or neckties. No blue in the flowers. Just a red-faced toddler sitting in front of me and a bellowing baby sitting behind me and they both screamed in unison just as the ceremony began and continued their commentary throughout because my life.
Despite my current situation, I didn’t feel too bitter or sad about seeing two flesh become one. I was pretty unaffected witnessing the standard union of two people, in love and full of life. It happens every day. Life goes on. Good for them. The only discomfort came from those slacks. But one moment did stick out to me. The pastor read a quote from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 that goes:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Having never been in a relationship, I wondered why I’d never been able to find my own plus one. How had I made it 32 years while God made sure I remained lonely? If He had allowed such a declaration to be included in the good book, why have I always been denied the privilege?
While the ceremony was about 30 minutes, the reception went on for three and a half hours. And it was mostly held outside. No blueberries in the fruit plate while the newlyweds went off to be photographed with family. No blue ribbons adorning the arches. Why do people in the south insist on having outside weddings in the middle of summer? I was drenched in sweat and wanted to leave but the girl I went with wanted to stay for the cake cutting and to try to catch the bouquet. Don’t get me wrong, the cake was one thing this big boy was looking forward to but in this case, I’d rather have air conditioning than confections. I was a good sport, however, and smiled and blotted my face and tried to inconspicuously unstick my bat-winged balls.
And when it was cake time, I eagerly got in line. No blue fondant. The lady serving the cake cut off the smallest piece possible for me. Oh, sorry ma’am, I thought I was gonna be able to get more than a few crumbs that fell off your knife. I looked at her, thinking she would realize the error of her ways and cut off a little more for me but she just stood there so I quickly dipped out and ate the slice in three bites.
It was a little dry.
Turns out, the bride wanted to wait until it got dark outside so she and her husband could walk out under sparklers. Which meant more waiting, more forehead blotting and being the iPhone photographer for everyone else who knew each other and wanted to blow up Instagram with high school friends in rolled hair and pretty dresses.
Even the girl I attended with drifted away for a while to take pictures with former work friends she hadn’t seen in a while. I looked around me and saw everyone with someone else. Girlfriends. Boyfriends. Wives and husbands. Best friends. The caterers and photographers doing their jobs. Everyone with a purpose. I stood by the wall, unsure of what to do with myself. And I felt like there should have been someone next to me. Someone to help me up, to keep me warm, to defend me against my own self-destructive thoughts. Someone to make me feel like I also had a purpose. But the only thing that ever stands next to me is an empty void and that void only reminds me that I don’t have a purpose.
Night fell but the heat did not wane. It penetrated through the dark and doled out more sweat for me. All the single ladies gathered around the bride. As she flung the bouquet into the arms of an overzealous 20-something in a billowy yellow dress, I realized I had found my something blue. It was me.
God knows my heart, knows I have a lot of love to give, and yet I always stand alone. Sometimes I think I’m getting close and despite my hesitations to let anyone near, I do because there’s always the faintest hope that maybe my person has finally come, that this could be the one to turn it all around. But they only turn me in the direction I’ve already traced too many times. And I wonder why God would tease and punish me in this way. Denying me is one thing. This just feels deceitful.
I’m not saying I’m more deserving of love than anyone else but I do think I need it more than most. I can’t do life by myself. I can’t conquer my demons all alone like this.
The ache never really goes away. Sometimes it gets easier to deal with but it’s never defeated. Do you know what it’s like to see the world through glass, to feel others through gloves? To live life for bitter and worse, to endure sickness and hell, to forever be separating until death does me apart?
To be one strand already broken?
Have you ever just clicked with someone?
When I was visiting my college friend and her husband in Atlanta, I was floored by how open they were to complete strangers. If they had questions, they walked right up to people and asked them. They chatted with our servers, made conversation with our Uber drivers, and did not seem shy with anyone at all. All I could do was stand by and be amazed at their ability to converse.
I wanted to talk. I wanted to share a genuine smile, to give a compliment, ask an open-ended question. I wanted to elicit a laugh, to leave a good impression. I wanted to have that connection with another human being, no matter how small. But despite my best efforts, my mind just doesn’t work fast enough to form a thoughtful word and before I know it, I’ve exchanged greetings and goodbyes and I’m left wondering how I scored.
I really want to be good with people. But the problem is I just don’t like people that much. But I am fascinated by them. They are simultaneously the most basic and the most complex creatures. Most humans want love, connection, safety, and security. That goes across the board. But the way in which they obtain those things is where it gets interesting. And confusing.
I haven’t had that many great experiences with people. I don’t have any long-term friends. Never been in a romantic relationship. I don’t fit in with my family. And I’ve worked in customer service for well over a decade. If that doesn’t sour your view of mankind, nothing will.
I think people have the potential to be great but most of them just suck. Especially me. I don’t give people enough of a chance. I make snap judgments and can be too quick to cut someone out of my life. I know there are good people out there but I’ve been dropped so many times that I just expect people to give 20% before crapping out. But does such an assessment make me an ass?
Maybe I’d be more inclined to have a genial response to a welcoming hand but I just haven’t experienced that alleged human connection, love, dedication, and care.
And I just really want to.
I could learn a lot from people. But I’m put off by them, thus I don’t want to interact with them, thus I never learn proper people skills. So when someone cool does come along, I can’t capture their attention. I can only bumble around like a butthead.
I understand that I need to work on things. I’m flawed and frazzled and often stutter and sweat when nervous. I have trouble continuing conversations, finding interest in others, picking up on social cues and niceties. I’m a huge mess and therefore I can’t always be surprised when I feel left out of the crowd. I know I’m not always a lot of fun to be around. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to fix it.
I’m wondering how I can break the cycle of simultaneously wanting people and pushing them away. I suppose I should just practice. Just talk to people. Ask questions. Show care and concern. Maybe I’ll figure it out. Maybe the skill of learning to connect will come to me. All I know for sure is the connection itself will not. That is something I will have to make happen.
I’ve waited for years for someone to come along, to care, to be in my actual life. I’ve wanted that feeling of finding my people, of discovering my complement. It hasn’t happened. It doesn’t mean it won’t. But with every lost chance at a friend, it does become harder to carry on, to finally experience that immaculate connection I’ve craved for so long.
I could feel myself rotting. My skin was sandpaper. My heart a hunk of meat.
I was dead for a few years. Crushed beneath student loans, liars, and the realization that I’d lost all I’d built my life to achieve. I was no artist. I was a con. I was no friend. I was a fraud. Friends, Family, and The Father fled and I was left alone to bear the weight of failure. But I was not strong enough and succumbed to the stress, the shame, the disappointment of departed dreams.
It was an avalanche, crashing on top of me, propelling me to the floor, grinding me into the dirt.
And then I thought I was alive again.
Someone came along and gave me several months of mouth-to-mouth. They gifted me a breath that burrowed its way back to my desiccated body. But when they broke the kiss, that connection to life did not linger and I was left in limbo, teetering on a thin string between life and death, losing all identity of being alive and all the peace of being buried.
It hurts to be in the middle, to be torn between two realms of being, to not belong to the day or the dirt. A lot of times, I don’t care which way I fall as long as it’s a clear conclusion. I would feel just as comfortable in a coffin as I would under a comforter.
My heart beats every few weeks. It reminds me I’m alive again. And so does the pain. It’s not the kind that sinks into me like a hot knife but the kind that gently evaporates all my joy. It arrives through the doorstep, dancing silently, getting to work with nimble fingers, picking up pieces of me and peeling it from my being: art, writing, pets, music, and food. It’s a more subtle searing sensation that’s not visible to others. It lurks in a lonely mind when I’m not occupied with work or worry. It’s the pain of being scraped hollow. It’s the pain on looking back on a life that had no real value.
It is not the pain of what has happened but the pain of what has not.
My heart halted. My spirit stopped. But my body continued to age and so much time was stolen from me. It was a 7-year gap of gaping wounds and unheard screams. It was a failed book, a failed relationship, a withering of animals and blossoming animosity.
And when I think about the mess I’m still in, the darkness deepens, blinds me to any future at all. That crushing weight descends on me one more time. It pulls at my eyelids, lulling me to a glorious rest, a sweet promise of permanent peace. But bills and responsibilities to jobs and family keep my eyes open. I reluctantly fight the urge to lie down. I want to give into it. I want to welcome it. But I can’t. Not just yet.
I can laugh and cry and carry on with my day. I can scream and howl and binge eat and nap away my week. I can work hard and impress my bosses. I can listen to the worries and daydreams of others. I can construct a daydream of my own, a vision of a better time, a better life, a better opportunity. I can act like a living person. Because, in many ways, I am one again. But it’s only a temporary recovery. I was carried out of a pine box prematurely and I’m left to deal with the consequences.
My path has been lined with sour honey and I’m forced to trudge through the muck to face more agony. And on this day each year, the clock resets and I regress a little more. More dreams die. More people disappear. My outlets are drying up, including the divine. God does not listen to my cries. He’s only interested in dictating my direction, the ebb and flow of fire in my head, and the distractions and derailments that set me back even further. He’s a voyeur of the coldest kind.
It’s impossible to go back. It’s daunting to look forward. All I want to do is just lie down and sink into the sticky substance. To be enveloped in the bittersweet bath. To rest. Because I know, I’ve always known, that I just don’t want to be here.
”I’m Peter Pan in a black hole…“
-DIES, Less Than Zero
”Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?”
-Lane Del Rey, Young and Beautiful
I was picking at my toenails the other day (because I’m psychotic and it relaxes me) and as I bent over to really dig into the nail bed of my big toe, I noticed a few varicose veins on my leg. They weren’t too apparent or bulging from the skin but I still noticed them, little purple squiggles running beneath transparent skin.
I know this condition isn’t just reserved for older people, but still. I’m already finding gray hairs running down the length of my body and what’s not turning gray is rapidly falling out of my head. I’m developing lines around my eyes. And now I’m noticing visible veins on my legs? What’s next? Liver spots? Incontinence? A general disdain for Generation Z?
I’ve always joked that I have an old soul. When I was younger, I felt like I had a grown man’s burden on my shoulders, despite all my needs being taken care of. It was the demon of anxiety that slipped underneath my skin and wrapped itself around my ribs. And now that I am a grown man with actual burdens (and with the anxiety squeezing ever tighter), I’m still projecting into the future, looking at my life like an old man on his deathbed reminiscing on his regrets.
I’ve got a lot of them, a ton of unfulfilled wishes and experiences and just like the man with the waning heartbeat, I often feel like much of it is too late to repeat, repair, or realize. Should I have attended that art school or should I have played it safe? Should I have experimented with drugs and alcohol and should I have plunged into those people and possibilities? Should I have held on to the friends I had? Should I have been more available to make more? Should I have made that phone call, kissed some lips and split others, fallen in lust and out of love, kept my faith and forgot to stay angry at those who wronged me?
Maybe some people emotionally age faster than others. Maybe some people are a product of their environment. With all the jobs I’ve ever had, 95% of my co-workers have been at least twice my age. And since I was always awkward, most of the social interaction I got was through them. They spoke of marriage and mortgages, worried about their children and bills, told me all about their physical aches and pains, the same ones I’m now starting to experience. Had their age and adages put a curse on my own crown?
I never went through a rebellious, crazy phase. I never sowed my wild oats or got a glimpse at anyone else’s. I never fell in love in high school and locked lips next to a row of lockers. I never joined a fraternity or fared well at social gatherings. I never snuck out of the house to meet someone special or sip cheap alcohol on a restaurant rooftop. No one ever touched my skin while it was smooth, rocked my body while it was strong, or caught my eye while it was sharp. I never partied or participated in a protest. I never did anything that mattered to anyone or to myself.
At my new job, I’m “the kid” ‘cause, again, everyone I work with is twice my age. Yet, at my old retail job, I’m now one of the oldest ones. My peers moved on, found better jobs, made something of themselves. They were replaced by careless teens and not only am I balancing two jobs but trying to find my footing with both sets of employees within. I’m unable to relate to the diabetes or dank memes and often feel out of place.
It really creates an identity crisis because there’s a part of me that feels absolutely ancient but when I realize that I’m 31, it doesn’t seem possible that I’ve gotten this old without having gone through certain milestones most people get to experience. Despite the wrinkles, I still have pimples and I’m shiny and awkward. I have a fear of making doctor appointments and traversing the intricacies of insurance and equity. I carry this naivety with me, something that used to be cute in my teens but is now offputting in my early 30s.
I’m like an adolescent octogenarian.
And maybe what’s more upsetting than a few unsightly veins is that I’m very much a vestige of both youth and maturity. I was a wise thinker at 18 and a simpleton by 28. Everyone caught up to me and then propelled past me. Along the way, I got off course and ended up regressing. I’ve been backsliding ever since. Maybe I’m not so far gone. My brain and body haven’t completely broken down on me yet. But I bet I’m a lot older than my face might portray.
Although I only work once a week at my retail job now, I keep running into my old recurring nightmare customers. The timing never ceases to amaze me. They have all week to come in and shop but they just happen to show up on my particular work day during my particular shift. I see them, wince, and want to retreat to the back room but once we’ve made eye contact, I’m sucked in and have to help them out.
It’s like a greatest hits of headaches and it’s pretty figgin’ annoying.
But working once a week has helped put some distance between me and the retail job and has also given me a different perspective. Being able to see all these crummy customers grouped together, one after another, week after week, I realized I’ve had quite a few unpleasant exchanges with customers during my six years of working there. I have to wonder if some of them aren’t particularly happy to see me, either. I might have made quite a few enemies.
But to that, I say good because, in my store, the customer service is always right.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there is crappy customer service out there. I’ve encountered it myself. But I can honestly say that the majority of my co-workers at the retail store are really good at their job. We all come in with good attitudes and try to help the customer as much as we can. And most of the customer complaints have nothing to do with us. They are usually upset about return policies or coupon restrictions or the clothing selection. And we try to find ways to work around their frustrations. Sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t, but most of us always at least try.
And this is where I’ve had problems with the customers. They want to use five coupons at once or get angry when I can’t give them cash for a return without a receipt. They want to go against policy, abuse coupons, and receive something for nothing. And when I won’t let them get their way, I’m the bad guy. Sometimes it’s not worth the trouble of a ticked off customer and exceptions can be made. Or at least alternative solutions that make both parties happy. But being in retail long enough, I can tell the difference between a customer we want to keep and one we won’t mind losing. But the interesting thing is the customers who declare they will never shop in our store again usually come back. They just get angry and say things out of frustration. But once that 25% coupon arrives in their mailbox, they reconsider their resolution and repent with a raspberry wrap dress.
I’ve learned that sometimes you just can’t make someone happy. I could go to the back room, take out a needle and thread, and sew a customer a shirt from scratch and they’d shout over the stitching. It’s been a hard lesson to learn, a lesson that has spilled into my personal life. But all I can do is move on knowing that I did the best I could and if that’s enough for some people, that’s great. And if it’s not enough, that’s unfortunate. For them.
I’ll just pop another Advil and keep a keen eye out for those perturbed patrons so I can duck and cover when I see them coming.
When I had my septoplasty done around 8 years ago, the doctor listed the benefits of the operation: increased sense of taste and smell and the hopeful disappearance of the cyst that had popped up on my neck a few years prior.
“You’re gonna feel so much better! You’re gonna have energy!”
None of that happened…except for the increased sense of smell.
It hasn’t quite been the benefit I had expected. I’m constantly picking up on putrid aromas.
In all actuality, I can’t totally blame the operation. I’ve been able to detect despicable fumes for years now, all the way back to when I was a kid. I even wrote a whole chapter about it in my non-best selling memoir that y’all didn’t bother to read. But the operation really seemed to kick my hyperosmia into high gear.
The latest scene of sardine smells takes place at my new job. My trainer/co-worker has driven me around in his car on a few occasions to tour the grounds. When I first stepped into his car, I noticed the distinct smell of puke. And when he turned on the air conditioner, the gust of air propelled the smell right up my nose. It was sharp and acidic, like rotten meat marinated in orange juice. I was assaulted, offended, nauseated. I wondered if he smelled it. I wondered if maybe there was no phantom puke at all and perhaps I was just going nuts. Why wasn’t he saying anything about the upchucked upholstery? I wanted to say, “Hey, dude, I think someone hurled in your Honda.” But I didn’t out of politeness.
I wondered if maybe someone had barfed in the backseat years ago and the lingering aroma had weaved into the fabric, settling just above the surface, forgotten by many, but waiting to pounce on the next unsuspecting passenger with one superior sniffer. It’s kind of like blood. You can wash it away but the stain will always be there.
While I shook it off during that first car ride, the next time I got into his car, there it was again: sharp stabbing gut juice. I knew I couldn’t have been imagining it. All the while, he carried on with one of his millions of inane stories, oblivious to the stank curled in the weave of his vomit wagon. Was he just used to the smell? He had previously told me his hearing had deteriorated. Perhaps his sense of smell was also dissipating.
While I’m all for road trips to get out of the office for a little while, I’m not sure if it’s worth holding my breath for the duration of a car ride and possibly passing out in the pungency. It looks like it doesn’t matter where I go, whether it be out of state for college or in a co-worker’s smelly SUV, the sharting specter is still stalking me.
I spoke too soon about my grandmother’s nose. While I was surprised it hadn’t been completely taken off as I was led to believe by my mom, her cancer has gotten worse. After the initial surgery to cut out the Merkel cancer, it returned and she had to have a second operation to go in and take out more. They took the tip of her nose. They already have another surgery scheduled. They are going to remove her nose completely. And her dementia is worsening. She doesn’t even know what’s going on. She thinks she’s getting a brand new nose. She’ll be lucky to get a prosthetic one.
My uncle, her primary caretaker, is also suffering from a touch of dementia as well. So, he can’t take care of her. Enter my mother, who has to do it all.
While my mother was gone to be with my grandmother for her second surgery earlier this month, my dad had a birthday. I gave him a card and he set me down and we had a conversation. Like, an actual conversation. Well, what could be equated to an actual conversation. He mostly talked to me and my responses mostly went ignored as he continued with his monologue. He was the one who told me the doctors were going to take off my grandmother’s nose. I was at work during her second surgery when Mom called Dad and told him and then he told me.
He also told me that he was getting a promotion at his job. Sounds like good news. But he doesn’t want to take it. He doesn’t want all the extra responsibility. In fact, he was planning on retiring in the next year or so. But due to insurance, he wants to keep his job. He’s worried about my mom’s job. Her hours have been cut at work the past couple of weeks. This isn’t an abnormal occurrence but it still worries them. I guess he’s worried about retiring and then Mom might lose her job and then they’ll be in trouble.
My hours have been cut at work as well. In half. Again, this isn’t abnormal. And they always get cut after Christmas. It’s a slow time. But things have been going downhill since the middle of last year. My hours have steadily decreased and I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t so temporary after all. So, I’m not really contributing to the family and I think everyone is aware of that. Since they don’t think I’m going to step up, my dad is, taking on a position he doesn’t want and picturing himself working about five years more than he had originally planned, just to help keep up afloat.
I asked him why he would take it if he didn’t want to and he repeated that he did it because of my mom. He’ll be making more money and having more responsibility but he is doing it to support her, both financially and I suppose as a gesture of love. My chest felt like ice cubes dipped in hot chocolate. I know my dad loves my mom and my sister and me. He just doesn’t say it. But he shows it, in those kind of ways, ways a man raised to be hard shows his love. It’s with money. It’s with hard work. It’s with doing the kind of things you don’t want to do in order for your family to be more comfortable. And that was great. And that was the hot chocolate feeling. But I didn’t want him to be unhappy with his new position. That’s where the ice cubes come into play. And I told him this. He shook his head in a dismissive manner. “I’ll just have to learn to like it,” he said.
He works with my uncle and so he’s seen the progression of his mental deterioration as well. He told me it’s getting worse. They often have to work out of town and he told me my uncle’s balance is so bad that he is constantly falling out of the work vehicles and often falls out of the small hotel showers. The past few times I saw my uncle, I did notice he was covered in small scratches.
It’s just, I think part of me is always looking for someone to turn around, buy me a drink, give me a hug and say it’s all right. Because I just go off on one. For days I’m unbearable, I can’t talk to people. And it shocks me because I’m still doing it. I want to be alone and I want people to notice me both at the same time. I can’t help it.
I often feel like the world has been constructed for couples. In these economic times, most people need help from a partner’s income to live comfortably. And life can be so harsh that the only way to endure is to have someone to come home to and hold at the end of the day. New dating sites are constantly cropping up. Most books/movies/television shows contain love stories that end when the protagonist finally finds the one. Magazines tell you how you can find the one as well.
You can be happy on your own. I’ve always believed that. But the more I subject myself to those books/movies/television shows, and the more the people in my life fall in love and fall in line with society’s expectations to partner up and procreate, the more a need for a companion sets in. And because of that, I wonder if being happy on your own applies to certain people only. Maybe some are just better off with another person. I’m just not sure where I belong. Am I in the single person camp or would I be better off belonging to another?
I keep trying to find a balance between realism and cynicism. I don’t want to feel like my happiness is dependent on my significant other. I also don’t want to dismiss love in such a way as to say it won’t bring immense joy. I’m sure it does. It can also bring immense sorrow. And that potential sorrow has been one of the reasons I’ve never taken a chance on love.
I’ve been single all my life so with no one to be with on a Friday night, I’ve had plenty of time to come to terms with my loneliness. For the most part, I’m okay with it. The thought of being close to someone terrifies me to no end. It’s the inexperience and the conception that I should be more seasoned at my age. It’s the insecurity. It’s the painful mediocrity. There is nothing exceptional about me and I’d rather everyone wonder what’s underneath my clothes and in my heart than let them see and be disappointed.
My life has been a consistent walk along a tight rope of minimizing my true flaws while presenting an artificial visage of put-togetherness. It’s a battle with the mirror and my mind each day and the fight has finally worn me down. But despite the exhaustion, hiding is all I’ve known. I hate it but it also feels easier than being real and raw and having that rawness turn into rejection. I don’t know how else to be.
Despite trying to be logical about being single, there are days when I ache to be with someone. I see it all the time when people tell me about dating and forming deep, satisfying relationships. It’s plastered all over social media. I long to be a part of it but I can’t relate to the posts, prayers, and praise about love and I don’t feel real. It’s something that should be natural. But it’s foreign to me. Not only do I feel rejected but I don’t even feel human half the time.
It’s in those moments that the loneliness flares up. It comes about like a cold sore, striking and subsiding without my consent or control. It’s ugly and painful and it makes me not want to get out of bed. It makes me not want to face anyone. It makes me not want to be.
But I do want to know what it’s like to be in love. I want to know what it’s like to kiss and hold and be held. I want to experience sex and the closeness of two bodies bonding. I want to feel all the things most people feel. I want to couple up, to hold hands, to go out to dinner with someone special. I want to love. I want to be loved. I want the incidental touches and intentional body contact. I want skin. I want heart. I want soul. I want to intertwine myself with someone else, to feel integrated into their being.
But sometimes you get so far away from something you realize it will never happen. Sometimes that’s just the cosmic cards you’re dealt.
I’m trying to learn to accept it. For the most part, I have prepped myself for perpetual singularity. But the desire for skin never truly leaves. It comes and it goes. And when it arrives, I usually just wait it out, distract myself with something destructive, and redirect the pain to other places until it leaves for another day. I keep it all inside because I have no other choice. There’s no one to help ease my burden while helping me out of my skin.
Y’all, I’m so behind on my writing. This happened a few months ago and I jotted some notes down but I’m just now getting around to posting this…I mean, I have a book to write but I’ll never get to it if I can’t get all this other mental clutter out first.
A few months ago, I met a high school acquaintance for dinner. We spoke fairly regularly for a few years and then she got married and we drifted apart. I never thought her marriage would last and sure enough, when we started catching up with each other over enchiladas, she told me she had been divorced for about two years.
Ironically, the divorce was the best thing going on in her life. Shortly after she and her husband split, she realized she never loved him the way she should have and wasted nine years of her life with him. But she did get a free house, car, and dog out of the deal so it wasn’t a total bust. But other than that, she felt inadequate and turned to alcohol and random sex partners to ease the hurt of being alive.
The more we talked, the more I realized we were basically the same person, Siamese twins conjoined at our crippling insecurities. I felt bad for her and felt even worse when I had no advice to offer up. Usually I can dole out a few words of wisdom and guidance that soothes whatever aches the person I talk to but with her, I had nothing because I’m going through the same problems.
She doesn’t have a job and lies in bed all day and drinks. She said she stays, at a minimum, buzzed, and at maximum, blacked out drunk. She has one night stands. She has no purpose, no guidance, no one to love her. She thinks she’s disgusting, which she’s not. She’s a very pretty girl but all she can see is the “big girl she used to be.” I also understood that. No matter how much weight I’ve lost or will lose, I’ll always feel like the fat guy.
I wanted to both hug and throttle her but couldn’t because 1) I don’t like touching people and 2) I know I wouldn’t have gotten through to her. I think she’s just going to have to go through whatever she’s going through and either become numb to the whole thing or finally snap out of it somehow. I didn’t think there was a cure for what ailed her. There was only control. She can control her symptoms. She can minimize the hurt but if she’s anything like me, and I believe she is, the pain will never go away.
“So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun…”
-John Lennon, Happy Xmas (War is Over)
People say I’m negative and it makes me feel bad because I never intend to be. It’s just what comes out. But after spending the holidays with my family, I’m starting to see they err on the negative side as well and that, perhaps, I’m not just a total asshole and much of the negativity I express is simply an inherited trait from a previous generation of buzzkills.
Does that let me off the hook?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
On Christmas Eve my mom’s mom came over and we had Christmas at my house. I sat there and watched as she tried to form a coherent sentence, a skill she’s been struggling with for the past several years, which has recently been accompanied by an accumulation of physical ailments that have put my mother in a tizzy as she’s had to take my grandmother to the doctor and get test after test to find out what’s wrong with her and then test after test to see what will treat what’s wrong with her. And naturally most of those doctor’s appointments fall on the one day my mother has off from work.
It’s not just me with the crappy luck. My whole family is cursed with it. Which might be one of the causes of the negativity.
And then there’s my dad sitting with my uncle, watching the nightly news because that’s a great source of entertainment to have going on while you’re carving the turkey. With the bombings and school shootings and rape and murder that gets scrolled across the screen, who doesn’t feel like cuddling up next to the tree with a big ass cup of cocoa?
So my dad tears into another conspiracy theory about the Obama administration and my grandmother talks with her mouth full and my sister is off in her own world with her husband and my mom’s running around tired trying to get everyone fed and I try to help but I just get in the way and have to listen to these people go on with their racial slurs with slurred words and I feel completely foreign here. These people are my flesh and blood but they are not my brain nor my beliefs and it makes it hard to feel good about any of it.
The next day I go to my dad’s mom’s house and she’s not doing much better than my other grandmother. She’s still mentally alert but also physically deteriorating. She coughed these intense, dry coughs the entire time, a hacking that made my shoulder blades twitch. Meanwhile, people are showing up late and liquored up, reeking of cigarettes and cheap wine.
Then my dad starts in about all the animals hanging around, the dog who’s blind in one eye and the other dog who probably has cancer and won’t last much longer. Then he talks about our dog, Sam, and tries to guess his age, insinuating he’s also old and also won’t last much longer. And I just don’t understand why he has to talk about such things during a time that’s supposed to be cheerful. Why put a black cloud over the proceedings when they’re already dark enough with a choking matriarch and a slew of unruly Angry Birds-addicted children?
And then I see these shiny happy families on Facebook and Instagram, polite children and adults who wear actual pants instead of pajama bottoms to Christmas dinner. Families who share Christmas songs instead of YouTube clips of a woman shitting in aisle five of a supermarket. Cousins who bring over mashed potatoes instead of moonshine. And it hurts even more. My family won’t ever be like that. Sure, no family is perfect, but ours isn’t even palatable.
I think about the young ones and I hope they turn out better than their parents. It’s unfortunate that the cousins I grew up with couldn’t learn from their parents’ mistakes. I see them following the same path. And I fear their children will do the same. I’ve seen one of my cousins grow up from a baby into a tall and pretty girl. She could end up okay if she’d just stay in school and not get pregnant. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask but we’re a fertile bunch and it doesn’t take much to get knocked up.
But really, it’s hard to say how anyone will turn up. I thought I did everything right. I made excellent grades in high school and did not curtail my cirriculum with drugs or alcohol or sex and followed my dreams of being an artist, which resulted in a pile of student loans I couldn’t comfortably pay back and days of unrelenting loneliness and rage.
I know I’m new around here and some of you who haven’t followed me over from OD don’t know me too well so you might fear I think I’m above these people. Don’t worry, I’m the biggest piece of crap out of all of them. It’s not about thinking I’m better. It’s about thinking I’m disconnected. I don’t agree with some of the choices they’ve made but they seem to be far more comfortable with themselves than I am with myself. And maybe being content with your choices, whether they be good or bad, is more important than trying to play it safe and make no choice at all, like in my case.
They have families, albeit accidental ones. But there seems to be love there. When you look past the camouflage, you can see a closeness. They’re not highbrow, but they’re a family and that’s really all that matters. It’s more than I can say. I’m the odd guy out, the only one not partnered up. They might have Honey Boo Boo caliber class but I’m the Christmas curmudgeon.
The next day they rushed my grandmother to the emergency room because her coughing got worse.
And then we took down the Christmas tree.