“Because it’s a great big white world
and we are drained of our colors
we used to love ourselves
we used to love one another…”
-Marilyn Manson, Great Big White World
“It seems like every day’s the same
and I’m left to discover on my own
It seems like everything is gray and there’s no color to behold
They say it’s over and I’m fine again, yeah
Try to stay sober feels like I’m dying here…”
-Seether, Fine Again
When I was a young artist, I saw the world in vivid color. Everything I knew, everything I enjoyed was found in the contents of a Crayola box. I played in innocent sand and ate laughter for lunch. It was action and adventure, Super Soaker summers and a spinning imagination. I opened up a hole in my head where I used to step in and float in a world of fantastic creatures and confident superheroes.
Play time was the best time. And I always played best on my own. But when people came into my picture, they muddled my colors. They stepped into that hole in my head and saw fit to trample through my fantasies and tear down my constructed view of the world. War went from being a Saturday morning cartoon to a Wednesday night news headline. The bright blue hues hewed into red chunks of violence. Green grass grew into a greed for money. Yellow corner suns stretched into police tape. Purple popsicles transformed from treats to treating the sting of bruises. All my colors had to conform to the world outside of my imagination, a world I could no longer avoid or ignore.
The art in me dried up. People came into my life to pick my brain, break my heart, and claim another color. I looked up from my canvas and saw the landscape of the earth, the willingness of man to crush anything for cash, character, or clout. People on one side of the world hungry for food, people on the other side starving for power. Killing animals, shitting into the ocean, blowing up everything we are scared of in an orange ball of flame, flaming the fires of an orange man’s ignorance, insecurity, and fear.
My world, my life, my existence was devalued, limited to black and white. It came from near and far, outside the scope of my vision all the way to my front yard. A rotating glass door of people pulled the brown from my hair and stole the pink from my flesh, all leading up to him swallowing up my warm white essence before breaking me in half. All that was left was black and a few shades of gray.
Each day grows dimmer. Black oil bubbles beneath our feet and gray smog fill our skies. We can’t see past the hazy hatred that we type up at our computers and send off like missiles. We praise corrupt politicians and cage innocent children. Death, disease, pollution, and politics come barreling at us like a train and even if we wanted to stop it, what more could we do but put up our hands and brace ourselves for impact?
A man who sits and smirks on top of a floating father and child. A cop who kills without consequence. A woman stripped of her clothing, consent, and clinic. A man beaten to death for being gay. Celebrity justifies insanity. God justifies guns. Power justifies the poor. We use any excuse we can to segregate and spit on those we consider less than human. But when did we get so arrogant to think we could ever make such classifications? And when did we get so stupid not to realize skin, culture, and orientation are all shades of the same color?
Life lights us up. Hatred, ignorance, and intolerance work its way into our lives to dim our shine. But we are too busy trying to fit in, too concerned with climbing to the top that we either don’t see the absurdity around us, or even worse, we turn a blind eye to those with white privilege or black water.
Deep inside the shriveled heart, a time or two I feel a twinge, an awakening of defiance, a simple brilliance of clarity that people will understand the error of the world if only they could listen to reason. But reason is the first thing to go in religion, political parties, and powerful people. Still, it comes alive in hopes it might impress or press down on the doubters, reach deep inside to resonate within the souls of those who might still stir toward a solution. If you can see it, you might care enough to change it. It might be too late for some, even for myself, but I look to those who still maintain their colors. The artist is on his way out but maybe the art can live on and help others do the same.
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 dream almost every night. Most people do. Most people can’t remember them. I can remember that I dreamed, just not what I dreamed about. And it’s frustrating because my dreams are often either pretty boring or pretty nice and I want to be able to recall a good feeling. ‘Cause I sure don’t have them in waking life.
And I always wonder why I remember some dreams vividly and others not at all.
A few weeks ago, I dreamed that I was in a building that looked a lot like a Blockbuster. I had an uneasy feeling, like I was out too late and should be at home or had a weird feeling about being at that location (maybe because most Blockbusters are closed and why the heck would I be in one?) but I shrugged it off.
Moments later, a guy came in carrying a gun. I was alarmed, of course, but tried not to freak out. Maybe he was just carrying it to make himself feel better or in case anyone tried to jack his membership card. I reasoned with myself that I would be okay. People only get shot on television and in movies. It doesn’t happen where I live.
But he turned to me, stepped up to me, and shot me in the ear.
The first thing I thought was, “I knew I shouldn’t have been here.”
I didn’t hear a gunshot or even feel anything but my vision turned into diamonds shining against a white light. I fell to the floor and once I hit the ground, I knew I only had a fraction of a second to live.
So I prayed to God to forgive me.
And then I felt this relief come over me. I don’t know if it was because God had answered my prayer or that I felt better that I’d had a final chance to get right with God or that I was just finally dead and didn’t have to be sad anymore.
And then (and this hasn’t happened before) I realized I was dreaming. But by that time, I knew my mind was being pulled back into consciousness. I felt myself being shot through that slippery tunnel that connects reality and dreams. And as that happened, I tried to get up from the bloody floor and fly away. I wanted to take over the dream but it ended before I could lift off the ground.
Most dreams of mine feel random but I could determine a link between this one and my waking moments of contemplation. I had recently listened to a podcast in which a guy said he woke himself up from his dreams by killing himself in his dreams. I guess he had the lucid dream experience down pretty well.
And I’ve been pondering the idea of reconnecting with God. I never turned full atheist but I just gave up on trying to get God to ease the ache in my heart. All the church and prayer and scripture never seemed to make a difference. I was, as I still am, beyond reach. Yet God is always in the back of my mind. I don’t know if it’s Christ convicting me or just that old time Christian guilt at work. All I know is the Holy Ghost is haunting me and it kind of sucks.
While the dream obviously incorporated the different things I’d heard, experienced, and thought about in the weeks leading up to it, it might not be anything significant. It probably stood out to me because it was the first dream I’ve ever had in which I could feel myself dying. I usually wake up before the last breath. But not this time. And instead of it being scary, it was strangely satisfying.
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.
“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?
My kitchen is in ruins.
My mother decided she wanted to redo our entire kitchen so last week, she had a business come and take out the cabinets, counters, sink, and dishwasher. We still have our fridge and stove but that’s it. Never one to be without coffee, Mom set up the coffee maker and microwave in the dining room. Every time I go for a cup, I feel like I’m in a hotel room. And I feel like I’m camping when plating my food on foam plates and eating with plastic utensils.
Mom estimated it will be like this for another week or so since the company is still building the replacement cabinets and need to put down new floor covering. Mom’s also started painting the kitchen so it smells like plastic and fumes.
All the cutlery and other dishes are stacked in the living room, which makes it hard to move around in there. Things are piled on the dining room table and in the corners. It makes the room a little bit smaller. It feels like my world is closing in.
We’ve been eating out a lot. It’s just easier. The problem is I was going to start dieting around this time. I told myself I would get back on track once I went back to the retail job and stayed there for about a month to get back into the swing of things.
I gained a lot of weight, all the weight I lost in 2012 specifically, while I was at the finance job. I was stressed and food soothes me. But I knew once I went up two pant sizes I needed to get myself under control.
But I don’t even want to.
I enjoy greasy fast food. I know it’s horrible for me and the calorie count is absurd but I don’t care. I’m still stressed because the retail job is slowly tanking. Our hours continue to get cut more each week and we are in the midst of a serious shoplifting problem. With the hours being scaled back, we are understaffed. There are entire departments that are not covered, which allows shoplifters to literally go in, take what they want, and leave completely undetected.
I honestly felt okay about the job when I went back. It was never my intention to stay there forever but I was okay with not trying to find a new job right away. I thought I’d work there while I focused on publishing my book and then once that was done, I could focus on a job search. But at this point, I should probably be looking now. I just hate looking. It’s so discouraging to go through all the classifieds and online job postings and not find anything interesting or attainable.
I feel like a smoker who knows the habit is bad but enjoys smoking and doesn’t want to quit. Every time I bite into a double cheeseburger, I know it’s going to make it harder to button up my pants but I’m all about that instant gratification and future consequences be damned.
I’m stressed about work and I’m stressed about my book and I’m stressed about not fitting into my clothes anymore and I don’t have the money to buy new ones and I’ve also been struggling with other stuff like being lonely and disconnected from society. It’s a lot to try to deal with so I eat to help me not deal with it.
I hope to one day get myself together again. I just don’t know what that will take. I’ve been on this journey so many times before and it’s both exhausting and exuberant. But each time, there’s a little less joy and a little bit more concern, wondering when I’ll slip again. Because I always do. Even when I bounce back, I always do.
it is hard to live
when one is bereft of breath
while walking on lungs
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.
You know how, when you’re in a zombie apocalypse, you’re always struggling just to make it through the day? Sometimes you run out of food and fresh water and you watch the sun set with a pain in your stomach. Or sometimes you make friends and you think you’re safe, that you’ve finally found a family but they steal all your supplies while you’re back is turned or they leave you in the middle of the night because you’re just slowing them down.
But you press on because that’s what humans do. You’ve got to make some sense of this mess made of the world. You find an abandoned gun and gather up some bullets and you scrape by. It’s tough but you make due with what little you have.
And your days are spent as the tension tightens in your body and stress exhausts your limbs. You spend the day looking for edible food and sleep to pass the time. You daydream and wonder while you wander. Your mind is a nomad. You think of strategies to make it through the cruel world, worry your gun won’t last long enough or if you could beat off a group of ghouls with a dented baseball bat. Where’s the next meal going to come from? You hope you find someone to save you, someone to make you feel less alone in a world of monsters.
And sometimes when the thought of another grueling day of hiding and fighting brings you to tears, you wonder what would happen if you just stopped. What if you sat down and pressed your face to the dirt and melted into the ground? But you can’t bring yourself to give up so you go forward.
And then one day you’re lying down in an unprotected shed and a zombie shuffles in. With an unholy grunt, you’re startled awake to see the rotting corpse rip into your chest with its skeletal hands. Its serrated fingernails slice through your skin, pressing further into the meat of you. Is knuckles get caught in your rib cage as it squirms its fingers further down, nicking your heart with each grasp.
The pain grips your senses like a bear trap, a concentrated fire so deep and intense it chokes you. You can’t speak or scream. The strength gushes out of you like a broken dam and you lie there paralyzed. The burning is so great your soul screams to God to end you but the zombie doesn’t bite into your brains. Through the holes in the boarded up window of the shed, it spots a sprinting survivor and sets its milky eyes on a fresh kill.
The taste of copper covers your tongue and you hope a less sportsman-like zombie will shuffle over to you and finish you off or a random survivor will find you and put you out of your misery. But no one comes with a bite or a bullet.
Blood and saline pool around your body as the pain spreads to your limbs, tingling your fingers and circulating away from your body.
The moans outside are muffled by the sound of your heart beating, growing louder, the blood rushing in your ears in crashing waves. Your eyes are blurred by tears you cannot wipe away, only light and shadows dancing across your face. You turn tiny, shriveling inside yourself. You gasp and find no air. The nerves blow out and leave a numbness that spreads like ice water in your lungs.
You grasp at the grass and dirt and still no one comes.
And no one cares. The living sprint toward safety. All around you the world is still alive. But you’re beyond help.
You close your eyes as you give in to the gaping wound. You press your face into the dirt. You melt into the ground.
The beating eventually stops.
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.