March wasn’t a great month. It marked a significant change in my life that I’m still trying to understand.
And two of my former co-workers died within weeks of each other. Cancer.
I hadn’t worked with them in a few years so it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it might. I guess I hadn’t worked with them or even seen them in several years and didn’t think I’d be seeing much of them again anyway. In some ways, I’d already made peace with it. It did give me pause, though. Especially for one of them. Very sweet lady. Never married. No children. Didn’t have much going on except for being active in her church and taking care of her ill parents. And by the time they passed and she was able to live her own life, she got breast cancer. So then she had to put her pursuits on hold to take care of that. And she sought treatment and wanted to continue it all the way up until the end. Died a few days after her birthday.
I looked up her obituary and it was little more than just a paragraph: she passed, her funeral was the next day, and the names of family members she left behind. A life summed up in three sentences.
People say she lost her battle with cancer. But I don’t like that phrasing. To me, people don’t ever lose to disease or depression. Because both are deadly and death cannot be defeated.
Why is it with any other form of death, it’s not a win/lose situation? You wouldn’t say someone lost their battle with a bullet or barreling bus.
Maybe it’s just me but when someone says “lost” there’s an implication of weakness. And we often equate losing with failure. But there’s nothing weak about dealing with cancer. I can’t imagine anyone stronger. In fact, as I was writing this entry, I came across an article in my local newspaper about a woman who has had cancer 3 separate times in 21 years and has managed to get rid of it every time. Think of the toll it takes on your body, your time, your energy, your mental and emotional state, and your relationships with others. Now think about having to endure that 3 separate times. No matter the outcome of that diagnosis, that requires strength.
Because, to me, life and death is not how you measure strength. Cancer will kill you. It doesn’t clear up on its own. You can’t dissolve it away by will. It requires medical intervention. You basically have to douse your whole body in poison and hope it kills enough of the bad stuff and not too much of the good stuff. No, the real strength comes from enduring those painful treatments, the drives to the hospital, the waiting rooms, the vending machine foods, the worry of it going away, of it coming back, medical bills, puking, losing all your hair and the contents of your stomach. The pain, the radiating suffering. The surgery. The hospital stays. The antiseptic smell. The needles and gluey cafeteria mashed potatoes. The tears in your family’s eyes. The chemicals leaving traces of themselves in your skin, the sadness written across the faces of those you love. And knowing all this and picking up and carrying on for another day anyway.
And even if you don’t carry on, even if you let the disease take your body, that’s not losing either. I also recently read an article about a young woman who was diagnosed with cancer and chose to travel the world with the time she had left instead of spending it in a hospital room. She chose not to seek treatment and let her cancer run its course. It’s all a personal choice and one that should be respected. You wanna fight this head on or you wanna let nature take over? Either way, it’s a tough choice. And accepting the inevitable requires a certain strength and resolve as well.
I think about my former coworker lying in a hospice bed. The last thing she said to her caretaker was she wanted to get out of that bad and back to a hospital for treatment. She knew if she could just get more treatment, she would be okay. She was always stubborn like that. Refused assistance. Determined to take care of her parents, and eventually herself, all on her own. But she was beyond treatment. And she lay there and she closed her eyes and her mouth and a few days later, she died. But she didn’t lose.
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.
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.
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.
The Internet is amazing. It gives a place for socially outcast kids to come together and realize they are not alone in both their interests and struggles.
You, the senior in high school with the Pokemon backpack. It’s okay. You’re not weird. There are others like you.
You, the guy wearing the black lipstick. It’s okay. You’re not a freak. There are others like you.
You, the person who owns the complete Gilmore Girls series on BluRay….well, there’s something wrong with you but the point is what makes you strange to one person makes you intriguing to someone else. And it’s hard living in a certain area where you don’t fit in because it makes it seems like you’re the one with the problem but that’s not the case at all. The only one with the problem is the one giving you a hard time for being yourself.
Are you gay or trans or like people of a different race or believe in a different god or like foreign movies or prefer to visit graveyards instead of The Gap? It’s okay. There are other headstone hoppers out there who would gladly let you tag along.
Social networking sites like Tumblr allow you to find these people and connect with them in a way you would not have been able to otherwise. With that connection comes reassurance that you are not abnormal because you sculpt Dr. Who action figures or enjoy analyzing the subtext of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Saturday nights. Whatever freaky fetish or outlandish longing you have, someone else out there shares that same passion. You can find a community. You can find support. You can find friends.
The problem lies in the fact that the majority of these friends are usually hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away. And it’s nice to be able to exchange instant messages and even a text or a phone call with these people, but I can’t help but to think it still doesn’t beat face-to-face interaction. I fear there’s so much we miss out on when miles are placed between us. I fear we never get the full effect of friendship. I fear there’s only so much we can put into a chat window. The nuance of voice and body language gets lost amid text messages.
And you can’t drive to that person’s house on a whim in the middle of the night for a chat session. You can’t embrace them when you need physical reassurance. You can’t see their face light up when you walk into the room. While we believe we are developing bonds, are we only getting half the connection we need to feel fulfilled?
“You’re not alone, you’ll never be
just like the stars lay over sea…”
-Jem, You Will Make It
“This could be a movie, this could be our final act,
we don’t need these happy endings…”
-Funeral for a Friend, Drive
Hands 10 and 2.
He watched the broken yellow lines slide beneath his car, one after the other, hypnotic in repetition. Gliding through liquid time and space. The drive, the road, the interior reaching different levels of quiet calm. The kiss of wind. The lulling hum of the engine. The soft squeak of leather from shifting matter and a thumping chest. He turned up the music and exhaled as the tempo traced ’round his ears. Steam from the coffee in his cup holder rose and twirled in the air.
He felt the warmth in spite of the broken heater and the frost outside. It wrapped around him. Around them.
He reached across the caffeine and crumbs and slid his hand in hers. He kept his eyes on the road, his concentration on the yellow lines, his skin on the other, foreign skin. Cashmere atop tendons. Cool and fragile. A burst of nerve cell signals.
He had written this scene so obsessively, dreamed this dream for so long, a dream miles away from reality. Was it possible that when she came to him, materialized in bones and blue eyes, he had willed her into being? Had he etched her into the interior of his retinas, cones and rods vibrating, crafting her shape and angles? Or had the divine hand peeled back its palm and formed her with featherlight lips and sent her to him?
Did such mercy exist?
As far as his memory could reach, he had traveled with a knife in his neck. It was a pain he knew better than himself. An old companion. A disease he wore like a winter coat. And then she came and withdrew the blade with breathtaking ease. Without the obstruction, he was able to look up away from the dirt and into the sky. Eyes opened with a mobile spine. This was how humans lived, how they felt. This was the way it always could have been.
He was a pauper turned to a prince. A bug into a boy. He wasn’t used to such delectable treatment from anyone. It was scary and unnerving and unrelenting. It was decadence and sugar and flooding. It was a revelation, a religious awakening. God existed in the space between pressed lips and pounding hearts.
Despite his resolve, he smiled, sank into the seats and into the moment, fleeting pleasures of pavement and porcelain. The sun was spinning back around to find him but for those moments, the world was asleep and they could sneak away to enjoy the shadow sky, just the two of them, reveling in the moonshine and kissing under the holes poked through the charcoal veil of heaven.
He said if only they could escape the sun, driving off the path and into their own world, from gravel to grass to galaxy, they’d be free of it all. She whispered something but the music drowned out her words, consonants cut up and lost in the percussion.
He felt her touch withdraw. He looked down and noticed the cold coffee. He looked to his right but only saw a blur of green from the passenger’s window as the trees rushed past him, felt the jolt of a popped valve, smelled the black streak parallel to the yellow lines.
He found his answer.
He watched, suspended, his neck tensed, as the trees lifted off the ground and tumbled in the sky.
Yesterday, a police officer came in to work and bought a blazer. I saw his holstered gun and it actually made me nervous. It was odd. I’m a violent guy. I love the stuff. But only in movies. In real life, I get squirmy.
If I was so nervous seeing a holstered gun, I wondered how freaked out I’d be if it was pointing straight at my head. It’s kind of amazing how your perspective on life changes the instant you’re staring into a tiny hole that harbors hell. I’m sure I’d cry hysterically and probably beg for my life. I guess that means I don’t really want to die. It’s weird, though, because I’m not too jazzed about living, either.
Despite my negativity, bad mood and PLAYING THE VICTIM all the time, there’s still this microscopic seed of hope waiting to swell and burst, a needling feeling that something good might actually happen to me. Maybe things might actually work out.
Maybe I’ll get published or fall in love or, at the very least, find a job I don’t hate.
And I don’t want to exit before that mysterious magical moment happens because I don’t want life to leave a bitter taste in my mouth after I’m done with it. I’ll need something good to hold onto while I’m being raked over the hot coals.
I just need to know there’s more to life than bad luck, bad body image, and bad breath. I don’t think there is but no one can really know now, can they? So, with that inkling of a chance, I stay here and work on myself and my writing and hope I’ll work up to, or stumble upon, something significant. I just need to feel better about all the time I wasted.
There’s some positivity for ya.
“You wish that you won’t wake up but you can’t even get to sleep
six feet under for these six months, just dying to be buried…”
–Sacha Sacket, Sweet Suicide
“I’m waiting for blood to flow to my fingers
I’ll be all right when my hands get warm…”
-Dashboard Confessional, The Best Deceptions
I’ve come across peculiar customers throughout my years in retail. One gentleman used to come in through the rear entrance of the store and always went through my area to get to the jewelry department. He was a tall man in his late 40s with a big, round belly. He always wore polo shirts, shorts, and white crew socks that stuck out from tennis shoes, no matter the weather. His shaggy hair was brown and unkempt, swept across his brown eyes and over his ears. He had bristly hair that hung down from the nostrils of his Roman nose.
He liked to pass the time talking to the jewelry associates, sometimes spending a whole hour looking at jewelry and chatting. Sometimes he branched away from jewelry and talked to other associates in other departments. Eventually, he made his way to my department to talk to me. He spoke with a deep, booming voice and also with a lisp. As he talked, his tongue darted between his small, brown teeth, muffling his “s” sounds. Right away, I could tell he had a mental handicap. He often spoke in circles, repeating himself as he stood with his hand propped on his jutted hip. He talked about the weather a lot, hoping for rain or wind to break the southern heat.
I noticed he wore women’s jewelry. His hands waved in the air as he talked and I noticed several rings on his fingers. The bands were thin gold that supported small diamonds. He also wore a delicately thin necklace with a heart pendent nestled in the hair that crawled up over his open shirt collar.
I inquired about his taste in jewelry to one of my coworkers one day and she said the rings and necklace belonged to his dead mother. He wore them to feel closer to her. I didn’t know if I thought that was touching or creepy. Maybe a bit of both.
He also bought a lot of women’s panties and his name was Roger.
But out of all his eccentricities, his incessant talking was the most problematic. He talked about things I was not interested in, therefore it was painful to stand through one of his rants or daydreams. He also often showed up when I was busiest and, not wanting to be rude, I stopped what I was doing to listen to him talk about hoping to win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes and what he would do with his windfall. I mostly nodded and even chuckled when appropriate. Sometimes I folded a stack of shirts and then picked them up and slowly walked away from him to give him the hint that I needed to get back to work but he never picked up on any of my cues.
He made me uncomfortable in a way I couldn’t articulate. He wasn’t rude or intimidating. He was just awkward and I’m awkward as well so we didn’t make a great pair. I found myself hoping a customer would need help or the phone would ring so I could shimmy my way out of his conversational grip. It came to a point that when I saw him stomping my way, I sprinted in the opposite direction so as to avoid his laser gaze.
I’ve known him for years. He was one of many customers that I’d see and feel that sense of familiarity coupled with a bit of unease, but nothing I couldn’t handle. In his own way, he was a part of my routine, a consistent face, an expected presence during my time at work.
While I was on vacation, he shot and killed himself.
“Free from the torment of sin
all this I’m giving up…”
–The Used, Light with a Sharpened Edge
I feel like I’ve been shedding a lot of old notions about God and humanity over the past several months. I’ve heard before that sometimes our emptiness is God carving us out so he can fill us up again. I can only hope that’s what’s going on with me.
I’ve stopped praying entirely. I’ve been angry with God. I’ve been rebelling, pushing my self-inflicted boundaries, joking about going to hell and rolling my eyes to all the religious symbolism embedded in my town. Days go by and I don’t even think about it. God is not in my life and I don’t cry or fret. I just float.
I’ve never been so far away from God before and I feel like I’ve entered this new state of being. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I’m slowly breaking away from all of it and there’s a part of me that feels tremendously guilty and there’s another part of me that feels nothing at all, the same kind of nothing I felt when I was more religious. When I have God in my life and when I don’t, I still feel jaded. That muted feeling has been my only constant since the mess of my life started.
Despite my anger, I still find myself wanting to defend God against the non-believers, to those who portray God as a fag-hating proponent of ‘Merica. That is not God. God is love. God wants nothing more than to love and cherish all us and have us be happy. It’s that simple. But am I right about that? How do I know who God really is? It certainly isn’t from first-hand experience. I was taught God was one of love but what if he really does discriminate and decimate?
One problem with people’s views on God is that a lot of people pick and choose what they want to believe. That’s why we have denominations. One person didn’t like one aspect of Christianity so they started their own. The other problem is everyone thinks their way is the right way, which seems pretty egotistical to me. I thought the only right way was God’s way. And we can’t choose which parts we want to follow and which parts we want to disobey. At least, not if we want to be good Christians.
Of course, I’d like to believe that God is one that loves and accepts everyone. That doesn’t mean it is true but I hope it is. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of people who believe God is about death and vengeance and punishment. That doesn’t mean it is true but they hope it is.
I admit I don’t know much about God but I feel I have a better grasp on him than the majority of the Christians that live here. They know a textbook God through a pastor chosen to recite the words from the Bible and interpret them based on his opinions. And people come and sit and follow his interpretations, not because it’s what God teaches, but because they agree with the pastor’s opinions. If they can get behind what he says, they treat it as gospel. If not, they simply move to a different church that lines up with their own pre-existing values and morals.
But their version of God doesn’t hold up when applied to a real-world setting. They think it’s about following rules. They believe if they go to church and pray before bed and vote Republican, they’ll get into heaven. Stay away from the gays and lesbians because they’ll turn ya! Don’t mingle with people of other faiths because they could cause you to question your own and we can’t have independent thought! Stay pure until marriage because sex, out of all the sins you can commit, even though they are all supposed to be equal, is the worst! Well, besides being gay.
“And I wish that plant life would grow all around me
so I won’t feel dead anymore…”
-Owl City, Plant Life
“We’re temporary anyway…”
-AFI, I am Trying Very Hard to be Here
I keep saying it would be nice if I could have been successful at a young age, a youthful entrepaneur or something. I keep saying it would be nice if I could have fallen in love. I keep saying it would be nice if I had lost all this weight long ago and never looked back.
My life is not how I pictured it to be. Sure, a lot of people’s aren’t but I think it presses down on me a bit more than it might others. At least that’s how it feels.
I think of how much time and energy I wasted on stupid things. My youth is gone and I have nothing to show for it except stretch marks and a rapidly depleting bank account.
But then I keep thinking about the end of my life and how it won’t matter. The accomplishments, or lack thereof, won’t make a difference when I’m decomposing. The lack of success and notoriety and influence. The lack of love and overage of love handles.
It would have been nice to have experienced the thrill of passion and exhilaration of adventure. Maybe it would have given my life some measure of satisfaction and happiness but when my heart stops beating, the money won’t matter where I’m going. The love I shared won’t matter where I’m going. It’ll all disintegrate.
I suppose the influence and impression I could possibly leave behind would have been nice as well but ultimately, I guess that doesn’t matter, either. Some people leave a part of themselves behind for others carry on. Some don’t. I most likely won’t ever get to deposit myself into anyone’s heart. Maybe I’m just one of those who are quietly born, quietly live, and quietly die.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean I never meant anything.
I was a person at one point.