I’d been looking forward to this mini vacation for months now.
Back in March, I searched my work calendar for the next holiday and almost keeled over when I realized it wasn’t going to be until the end of May. Would I even last that long? I circled the 29th and trudged through the work day, counting down each week as it slowly passed.
Since my company does comp time instead of overtime, I’d acquired enough comp time to take the Friday before Memorial Day off, which gave me 4 precious days instead of 3.
Right away, my mind raced with all the things I wanted to do. I had a lot of writing I wanted to catch up on. I also wanted to start working on some other art projects and get back into being creative again. What I actually ended up doing was staying in bed catching up on Orange is the New Black. At first, I was annoyed with myself. I’d piddled away 4 days when I could have been constructive. But then I realized I needed to recharge my batteries. If staying wrapped up in sheets and widdling away at my Netflix queue was how I needed to nourish myself, then I needn’t get so down about it.
Says the guy who thinks deep dish pizza is therapeutic.
I’ve really noticed a dip in my energy the past few months. I’ve never been a poster boy for stamina but the only energy I can muster these days is to fluff up my pillow before taking a long nap. I nap during my lunch break at work. I nap when I get home. And then I go to bed at night and I still can’t seem to get enough rest. The only time I feel good is when I’m dozing off.
The only reason I don’t sleep more than I do is that sleeping passes too much time. Before I know it, it’s a new day and a new crop of crap to deal with and I often try to prolong the morning sun as long as I can.
But at the end of the day, after I’ve dealt with mentally declining coworkers, sycophantic supervisors, and self-disgust at how horrible I am at humaning, the only thing I want to do is get out of my head. And the only two ways I can do that is either by eating or sleeping. But neither is a good solution yet I’m too tired not to take the easy route.
I know most would say I’m too lazy to be exhausted. I sit at my job and sit at home. I get it. But depression can be draining, too. As much as I try, I can’t turn it off. I can only delay it with dreams and donuts but as soon as my eyes open in the morning, the dull ache sets in as I set myself up for another struggle.
I wish I could get lost in writing and drawing again, like I was able to do when I was younger. But again, I get in my own way and I’m such a perfectionist that I can’t simply color an image or draw a picture or write a poem without picking it apart. I know I’m capable of better. I see it in my head, feel the rhythm of the word, taste the nuanced tones but I can’t seem to translate it to screen. And it frustrates me so I just don’t bother. Eating is often easier.
I only get out of bed because I have to, because I have a job and bills. And as much as I’d like to travel or learn a new trade, the exhaustion empties me out again and it all seems like an Everest-sized endeavor. My bulb has dimmed so much that I can only see as far as the end of the work day. I put up with bureaucratic b.s. and nap in my car and go through the rest of the day sleep drunk and scan my calendar and circle a date in July, a day steeped in the dark.
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.
“Let’s rehearse the song and verse
the graceful dance of dying
when my friends mouth their validation
I can tell they’re lying…”
-Showbread, I am Horrible at Processing Rejection
Somehow, one of my coworkers got on the topic of my book and I shrugged it off, told her I was over it.
“I want to buy a copy.” Yeah, sure. That’s what they all say.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Yes, it is,” she said. Yeah, sure. They all say that, too.
I shrugged again. She told me not to give up, to believe in myself, even when no one else did. I smiled and thanked her just to drop the topic.
The thing is it’s not so much about me not believing in myself. Despite a lack of confidence, I believed in myself enough to write a book. And I believe it was a good book. What bums me out is that no one else believes in me. I already feel so alone and insignificant having not contributed anything to anyone or anything, never having changed someone’s life or fixed a huge problem or created a piece of art that enlightened. I’ve just existed, taking up space and eating Doritos by the ton. It’s not a good existence. It’s no quality of life.
This book has helped me suss out all the insincere people in my life, the false cheerleaders, the fake friends, the ones who said they cared and showed they didn’t. Unfortunately, I’ve realized it’s just about all of them. And I didn’t have many people in the first place. So, chop chop, they’re out of my life. But I don’t feel any better, don’t feel like I’ve solved anything.
A few days later, that same coworker who was all about buying my book (she never did, I’ve been checking my sales. I told you) posted and inspirational quote on my Facebook wall. But that inspirational quote didn’t mean anything to me. Anything meant to be inspirational doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, holds no weight, does not move me. In fact, I read these inspirational memes that many people post on their walls and I just chuckle. God bless if it gives them comfort but to me, it’s just words shaped into a sentence intended for a smile. But I suppose those quotes are meant for those who still have a shred of hope left. I just bypass them and move on to the next post, a cat video or political cartoon.
Words mean nothing to me anymore.
Don’t tell me you believe in me. Don’t tell me I’m talented or funny or good-looking. I will not believe you. If anything, it will steer me toward not trusting you. Because I know the truth and I don’t need your charity lies.
But, if I’m supposed to be a writer, shouldn’t words mean everything? I tried to incite change through my words. I tried to drum up understanding and conveyed my heartfelt desires and losses through my words. I wanted a reaction. I wanted a response. But if my words continue to be rejected while their words are shoved down my ears, eventually eroding into empty symbols, how can I reconcile that?
I suppose it’s because I’ve never tried to cheer anyone up with my writing. I’ve never tried to write fluff to form a happy face. That’s not to say it’s all been negative or hopeless. When I first started writing in my teens, I was depressed even back then. But I still had some hope. And my writing showed that, exploring my feelings while holding out for a better future. Unfortunately, my future was blotted out with bad decisions and bad jobs. But with my book, even though it was filled with despondency, in the end, I tried to realistically write an outcome that was hopeful without being cheesy. There was hesitation. There was hellfire. But through it, there was human spirit. It didn’t go down smoothly but it was still palatable.
I just like realism. And for me, false positivity is not realistic. Let’s all just be honest about how things suck. But that doesn’t mean we should wallow in it (I know I’m totally guilty of doing this and I’m a huge hypocrite). Naturally, no one wants a downer. But I feel like people who are too happy or too positive are not to be trusted. It’s not about suffocating your sadness with another fake smile. And it’s not about spreading your sadness around like you’ve just peed in the pool. Ideally, we’d all find a balance, allow ourselves to go deep into the depression while also pointing out and appreciating the good moments. I feel like I succeeded in doing that in my book. In this blog? Not so much. But I’m better at it in my daily life.
The meaning of all things is slipping away. It’s hard to be inspiring. It’s hard to maintain connections. It’s hard to be a person when you’ve been voided out of humanity. Sometimes it takes something so little as validation, as a simple follow-through to turn a person from a floating glob to suddenly gathered together, allowed to finally find footing and move forward.
My relationships have no meaning. My life has no meaning. Food and taste has no meaning and now the last thing I had in my life, words, no longer have meaning to them. These are words you are reading but they are not reaching you. I will never reach you because as I’m writing this down, you’re writing me off as someone who is too negative, who is too sensitive. But I’m trying to tell you that while those things are true, I haven’t been given the kind of support most have. You try to be all smiles when your classmates and colleagues say they care and then crap all over you at the first chance they get.
There was a bird in my chest once, a heart made of feathers and profuse love. It sang with hope, with teenage newness and the shimmering hope of a better tomorrow. It took flight around those I admired, those I wanted to love me back. But those very people reached in and stuffed its mouth. My bad luck plucked it bare, then Life itself stepped in and stripped the flesh of writing and relationships until that bird was a just a skeleton, hollow enough to be blown away by the first gust of wind, then dropped back down to earth, shattered.
But I guess that doesn’t matter, now does it? It’s just words. Words I’ve said to people in the past to convey how I feel, to tell them they hurt me, that I’ve been disappointed, that I’ve felt abandoned. And I’ve been killed by their quiet, their apathetic rigidness. Their excuses. Their lack of sympathy or apology. I can only guess their callousness means their birds don’t sing anymore, either.
I’ve been crying a lot lately.
It’s mostly been over inconsequential things, like dog videos. And they’re cute videos about dogs tucking in babies or hugging other dogs. Just generally being sweet and adorable. It sounds lame on the surface to cry over this kind of thing (What the heck, am I a pregnant woman?) but I just love animals and dogs are just so amazing and beautiful and have pure souls. I’ve never met a bad dog. And they’re just so cute and it warms the coldness I have inside. And when I see those damn ASPCA commercials or the inevitable screen grab of abused animals that are advertised on the web, it breaks my heart. I don’t just see the images of freezing puppies chained to a fence or a cat with one eye sitting in the corner of a cage. My mind goes beyond the images. What happened to them to get them in that situation? What cruel person took this innocent creature and tortured it and neglected it? I step into their fur and see the world the way they do. I wonder how long they suffered. I hate that they never got to know love. I worry for them. I wish for them to be okay. And it just makes me so sad that there’s so much suffering in the world, especially suffering animals because no one cares about animals. We hear, “Save the Children, Save the Refugees” and I totally agree with that. But you don’t hear “Save the animals!” as much.
And then on Facebook I saw this video of this kid who had a mental and physical impairment but this guy at Starbucks gave him a chance and made him a barista and the kid said he felt like his life had a purpose now. That made me cry, too. And I thought that was just really nice of that guy to help out the kid and I thought it was great that the kid felt like he had a purpose. And his purpose was making coffee. And that seems so simple and inconsequential and maybe it is, but to him it wasn’t. Maybe it was just the fact that he had something to do, something to contribute to the world. He could help people. It was something so small but he was so grateful for it.
I turn that on myself and I feel like a jerk. I feel like my life has no meaning. I go to work every day and I fold shirts and tell customers their coupons don’t work on Levis and they get pissed at me and give me a hard time and then I go home. What am I contributing to these people, to the world, to life? I have dressed a lot of people for funerals, both attendees and the deceased. I suppose you could say by helping these people dress for a difficult situation, I am easing some of the burden. And maybe I am. And maybe they don’t think twice about my small contribution. I don’t know. All I know is that it’s not enough. But should I not be grateful for the little bit I do? Whether I’m pushing coffee or khakis, if I’m assisting someone make their day easier, isn’t that enough? Shouldn’t we all be helping each other, whether in small or large ways?
I constantly go back and forth between feeling useless and realizing that I am not. Or if I am, I could always do something about it. I could be an activist. I could spread good news. I could give to charity. I could hand out compliments and positive vibes to others. It just never feels like enough because I don’t see the effects of my actions. At work, I send people off with their clothes and never see how good they feel wearing their new outfit. I compliment someone’s haircut and don’t get to know how that might cheer them up if their in a bad mood. I donate blood and never know if it might have saved a life.
I guess this kind of sounds selfish, right? I do all these great things and get nothing out of it! It’s not that I’m looking for recognition or accolades. I just want to know that the admittedly little bit of good that I do is making a difference to someone. In the grand scheme of things, we are all useless. None of what we do or say is really going to matter. But some of us can make the littlest blip on the cosmic radar. Your great leaders. Your great artists. Your presidents and advocates. Those who created a lasting change. Those who started a revolution in thinking, working, loving, living. Even all that might not matter once the world explodes. But at least it might ease the burden on others for as long as everything is still standing.
Last month, my mom asked me what my plans were for my birthday.
“I get off work at 3 and then I’m headed out of town to grab a pizza and cake,” I said.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing. It’s just pitiful you’ll be by yourself and picking up your birthday dinner.”
“Well, I don’t have any friends, so…”
And that was the end of that conversation.
I know my family isn’t the closest but that small exchange really brought home how emotionally cold we can be toward each other. She didn’t offer a sympathetic look or any word of condolence for my loneliness.
I suppose it could have been because she has a lot on her mind. My grandmother had to have another doctor’s appointment on my birthday. Another 3.5-hour drive. And maybe I’m being selfish for feeling a little neglected but I still left the room feeling like the various hints at hurt I give her go ignored.
It wasn’t the first time I’d given her a heads up on my heart. It’s hard in general for me to open up to her because any time I do, she criticizes me, makes it seem as if my feelings are invalid. So instead of outright letting her know how I feel, I wait for her to initiate an inquiry into my feelings or I’ll throw out a random comment on my discontentment and see if she responds. She never does.
I woke up on my birthday (three weeks ago) and had to get ready for work. The work day was kind of long but fortunately, I didn’t have too many rude customers or any complications. The lunch was catered and we were allowed to wear tacky Christmas sweaters and jeans so I was well-fed and comfortable.
I got off work and went home to open up my birthday cards. I was tired and didn’t want to go out of town but my favorite pizza place is located out of town. I’d been dieting and exercising and had done so well and I wait all year long to eat this pizza. It’s so good that I only want to have it on my birthday to make both the pizza and my birthday all the more special. God, what a loser, eh? So, despite my fatigue, I freshened up and got back on the road.
I thought about finding a place to sit and write once I got into the city. I don’t go out of town often and when I do, I want to explore, to visit the various shops and find a nice, chill place to write. The change of atmosphere really helps boost my creativity and productivity. The problem with that is I was tired and just wanted to pick up my pizza and go back home. It was already dark by the time I reached the pizza place and when I factored in the writing time, pizza eating time, picking up my cake, and the long-ish drive back home, it would be well past midnight before I made it back to my bed.
I thought about writing at the pizza place. That way I could eat the pizza fresh and get in some writing time but when I pulled into the parking lot, the place was packed. I knew I didn’t want to be the sole stranger surrounded by friends and family. Especially not on my birthday, especially when it would have been nice to be surrounded by my own friends and family. So, scratched the writing plan, grabbed the pizza and ate a slice in my car before it got cold.
I work in a retail clothing store. There are only two other places to shop for clothing in the town and they have less options than our tiny store provides so the majority of people come to us.
The town I work in is filled with older people. There are no opportunities for jobs or fun things to do for youth so as soon as they graduate high school, they hightail it out of town and find a larger space far away with more choices. The whole town is basically a nursing home.
Because of this, I see a lot of death and decay at my job. There aren’t many companies here that require its employees to wear suits and the employees that do wear suits can afford better quality than what we provide. So every time a younger person comes in to buy a suit, it’s usually because someone has died. And if it’s an older person, they are usually buying something new to wear to church.
It always goes one of three ways:
“I need a suit for a funeral and I don’t know what size I am.”
“I need a suit for church and I don’t know what size I am.”
“I need a suit for my husband for church (or funeral) and I don’t know what size he is.” They go on to tell me how the husband has lost a ton of weight due to illness and/or advanced age.
And the illness and/or advanced age will then lead to the wife to want a pajama set for the husband while in a nursing home or for recovery after surgery. We don’t carry pajama sets. We never have. No one else around here does either. That only adds to the stress of a sick spouse. And I have to be the recipient of their frustration.
I am constantly bombarded with older people and their disintegrating bodies. They’re always shrinking in size and health and when I look into their pale, watery eyes and observe the folds of their skin and the stray eyebrow hairs and sun damage on their deeply lined faces, it’s almost as if they’re sucking the life out of me as well.
It’s hard to always hear about how someone is sick or someone has just died. It’s awkward for me. I never know how to react. I don’t want to seem cold but I also don’t want them to fall apart on me so I try not to let them focus on grief. I express my condolences but then I get down to business, measuring their necks and arms for sizes, smelling their stale stench, assessing the misshapen bodies due to years of hard labor or disease and wondering how I’m going to fit their many bumps and grooves. It doesn’t help that our suit selection is piss poor. And oftentimes, so are the customer’s attitudes.
I’m young to them. But to me, I feel as old as their weathered faces and limp gray hair convey. I’m going gray myself and finding my eyes are crinkling more and more when I smile, the creases in skin not plumping back the way it used to. I see myself in them, tired and broken down and sometimes just angry to be alive.
I feel like an old, defeated man. I’ve led a privileged life but I hesitate to even call it a life. I’ve filled up my short years with decades of despondence. I peaked at 23 and my life and body has gone downhill since. It’s been a combination of bad luck and admittedly, a bad outlook on my part. I’ve lost friends and faith and a passion for art. I’ve lost some opportunities and passed up on others. And now I work in a dead-end job with half-dead customers. I have made no difference to anyone. I’ve put myself in a debt I cannot get out of and I have burdened my family with my lack of finances. I’m not talented enough to reach my readers. I am not kind-hearted enough to keep friends.
And most of the time, I don’t even feel well-suited to suit up a customer for a casket or convalescent home.
“Your mind is racing like a pro now
Oh my god, it doesn’t mean a lot to you
One time you were a glowing young ruffian
Oh my god, it was a million years ago…”
–The National, Racing Like a Pro
It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting here in the dining room with a cup of coffee and The National playing on my iPhone.
I feel so wholly, embarrassingly, desperately lonely.
My go-to move when I feel that way is to turn to food. I want nothing more than to eat. Emotions are filling my insides and I want to drown them out with soda and cereal. Sugary cereal that feels so good chewing but awful as soon as I swallow.
I want to talk to someone but I can’t think of anyone to phone. Because I really don’t want to talk to anyone. I’m too tired for a conversation.
I want to be social and it’s not that I don’t like the ones I talk to but it’s exhausting pretending to be interesting, to have to come up with witty things to say, to make someone laugh, to laugh at all.
I want to fall into a void, to be sucked away into a black hole as an excuse to get out of talking and texting and engaging. I want to talk but I don’t want to speak.
I hoped drinking enough coffee would fill me up, would help me get over this craving. But I know better. It’s not hunger I’m trying to satiate.
My head is a coalescence of rage and confusion. It spins faster than I can process. It begs, “Write! Scream! Sing! Get these thoughts out! Why are you just sitting there?” But I can’t answer. Again, I’m too tired. I’m invalid in creativity, apathetic in motivation. I want to sit down and get it out but that would mean I would have to deal with it. And we know I’m not good at that.
So I sit and stare at the wall for hours, take naps and read a few chapters of a book before my eyes go heavy. All distractions. All putting off my problems. It’s a trend I’ve been noticing lately and it sickens me the time I’ve wasted covering up my chronic shortcomings in favor of keeping pain at a distance. But in the effort to avoid it, I hit it head on.
It all piles up, these thoughts, these fears of mine. And when I sit down to express them, they come out in terse bursts, boiled down to base emotions, the extraneous fringe feelings already frittered away along with more brain cells.
What’s on my mind? What’s been festering?
I’ve struggled with loneliness for as long as I can remember. I’ve never loved or been loved. I’ve missed out on midnight kisses and dancing and dinners with someone special. I’ve not experienced the sweet release of letting down my guard and inviting someone into my heart and mind. I’ve not been able to intertwine my heart with another and it’s led to a half existence, like I’ve been skimming the surface of life, never allowed to fully dive in and let the water into my bones.
It’s a pain I’ve learned to carry and compress like a dull headache that never heals. And so when I hear someone who’s been in several significant relationships tell me they feel they’ll end up all alone just because they haven’t made it to the altar yet, it makes me angry. That’s when the headache magnifies to a migraine.
I’ve had several people come to me over the years and express their fear of forever alone. But they’ve had relationships in the past. They’ve tasted skin and love. They’ve dived headfirst into the water. Many times they come to me before they’ve even fully dried off.
Most recently, I had a girl tell me she thought she’d be alone forever because she was talking to several guys but didn’t see much of a future with any of them. She was obviously desirable to have all this male attention but she still felt deflated. Meanwhile, there I was, newly fat again, depressed, and with no prospect of love.
I wanted to tell her to shut up and let her know she had no idea what loneliness was. She’d been single for a little over a year by that time, merely a blink of an eye in comparison to my 28 years of loneliness.
But then I pulled back and scolded myself because, to her, being single for a year was difficult to digest when considering she had been in a relationship since she was in high school.
I had to remind myself suffering is relative. Just because she hadn’t experienced loneliness as long as I had didn’t negate her feelings. She had every right to feel as lonely as she thought she was.
We all experience feelings in various degrees of deepness. And almost every feeling we have is valid. Just because it doesn’t match up with someone else’s experience doesn’t mean it’s not real or genuine. We all come from different backgrounds and have experienced different triumphs and disappointments over the years.
And because each one of our stories is unique, it should be difficult to pass judgement on others. But it doesn’t make it difficult at all. We pass judgment on people every day, most oftentimes without even thinking about it. I passed judgement on my coworker as if it were as natural as breathing. That was wrong of me.
I still don’t think she knows what loneliness is but that’s my opinion. I can’t push that on her. She knows how she feels and I know how I feel. And if we could all sit back every once in a while and be aware other people’s circumstances, we might begin to understand them better, might become more empathetic, might become less cold to other people’s emotions.
We all have our own journey and we all have to take care of ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we have the right to invalidate others along the way. I’m also not saying we should sacrifice and live for others to the point we ignore our own needs but if we could just find the balance between nurturing ourselves while considering others among us, it might make things easier on everyone.
People tell me I’m preoccupied with the negative aspects of my life. I focus on the bad and don’t give enough praise to the good. In some ways, I can understand their point. There have been many times when I’ll go inside my head and find nothing but bad and I have to pull myself out and realize I need to give credit for all the good I have going on.
I’ve been made to feel so guilty for not being this shining beacon of light that when I do feel down, I immediately counter my complaints with gratitude. My job sucks but I have my health! I have no friends but I have a roof over my head! I can’t control my weight but at least I have food to eat!
Yes, I recognize and understand all of this but I just don’t think anyone understands how deep the depression runs. It’s not just a matter of inconvenience. It’s a matter of chemical imbalances and separation from people, happiness, and God. It’s a matter of always feeling dead and always wishing I really was. It’s so much more than the outer shell of what you see of me, who you perceive me to be through conversations, and the words you read from me.
It’s like telling someone to ignore a knife wound. You’ve been struck in the chest but you can still walk, right? That’s just not how it works. Every day when I wake up, I can feel the knife sliding in deeper, sawing away at the nerves and edges of organs. I’m sorry, but I can’t just pretend that didn’t happen.
That doesn’t mean I’ve twisted the weapon further in, either. That doesn’t mean I’ve laid myself down and given in to the damage. I don’t point to the penetration and pray for pity. I talk about it. I’m open. I’m honest. I am not diluted into thinking things are okay when I know they aren’t.
And that’s the problem with people who tell me I’m too negative. I’m not negative. I’m just real. And I have enough strength to be aware of the limitations and disappointments in my life. I don’t put a bow around the base of the knife and wear it like a decoration. I know it’s there and I won’t dress it up or work my way around it. I don’t ignore it. I don’t settle for the steel inside skin like others do, rotting them from the inside out.
Every time I sit down at the computer and write like this, I’m facing it head on. I’m working out the blade by working out my problems. And pain and disappointment comes with facing it head on. There will be challenges. There are arteries you have to navigate through. And sometimes you’ll hit a new nerve and you’ll want to give up and just leave it in to prevent further damage. But you’ll never truly be healed until it comes out fully. You can’t be healed if you don’t give your wound some attention.
As with anything, it’s all about balance. Sure, I shouldn’t focus on all the bad. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t deal with it in some capacity. I’m working on it. I go about my business. I get up and drive to work and collect my paycheck. I look forward to the temporary deaths of sleep and the ecstasies of eggs in the morning. All the while, the pain lingers and the fact that I’m not on the floor in a fit should be seen as a sign of progress.
And when someone asks how I am, how I really am, not in an informal salutation, but during an actual conversation, I tell them because I think they genuinely care. And then they tell me I’m too negative, that I should ignore the knife wound. And I withdraw because they don’t get it or they don’t care.
I go home and sit in my room, alone, and get to work on unsticking the blade from my bones.
“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.