“Will you ever know that the bitterness and anger
left me long, long ago
Only sadness remains
And it will pass…”
-Sia, You Have Been Loved
Sometimes I feel nothing at all. But when I do feel, I feel deeply.
It might sound odd but I think there is something sweet about quietly aching over someone, whether they stole your heart or broke it. To know that you can come out of the agony to still find a degree of affection.
I could be bitter. I could focus on all the falsehoods I was fed and the eventual foul feelings I felt. But it’s comforting to know that despite the hurt, I can manage to bypass the bad feelings and burned bridges to find memories that soothe and suppress the sadness.
To be hurt by someone establishes I ever existed at all. Look, it’s right here, marked by all this pain. It makes me feel real.
It was short. But you don’t have to know someone very long to leave a mark. I went through a lot of emotions and I definitely felt a lot of anger. Villainizing felt like the only way to make sense of this mess. But that was an emotional place I could never stay in for too long. The anger evaporated but the depression stayed dominant.
But I’m carrying on, mostly because I don’t have a choice. And while I used to fixate on all the frustration, I don’t think about it quite as much anymore. But when I do, I try to focus on the fun, albeit few, times.
Remembering the cool sheets, the off-brand body wash, the expensive clothing. The smiles and the laughter. Making someone feel good, helping someone forget their troubles for a few hours. Helping me forget my own. The gentle hum of a moan, the labored breathing and soft sucking sounds. The parts that slid together in unison and the jarring surprise of friction. Opening a door I thought was long ago locked.
The mundane and the magnificent. Remembering the skin of another hand, the smoothness of another set of lips, looking into another set of blue eyes and seeing myself in them. Another soul in need. And I want to believe that I did help that soul, if only for a little while.
It was never a Disney movie but that didn’t mean it wasn’t magical sometimes. There are memories I play back in my mind that feel like surreal scenes. It was never about finding perfection, just possibility. It was good enough to find someone to share their couch and body and life with me, to let me in, to allow me a glimpse of how human beings live and experience, to see the back and forth struggle of desire vs. despair, longing vs. loneliness, education vs. indoctrination.
Stepping back brings clarity. I can see a little better now, although I can’t say I understand. I just know I don’t want to be bitter. I just want to be better. I still ache, but not necessarily in a bad way.
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.
“Let’s type words
Because they amount to nothing
Play it down
Pretend you can’t take what you’ve found
But you found me
On a screen you sit at permanently…”
-Ellie Goulding, Guns and Horses
When you get carpel tunnel from scrolling through your news feed, you’re probably following too many people.
It’s always interesting to me when I see others who follow hundreds of users on social media. I wonder how they’re able to keep up with so many individuals. How long does it take them to get through their feed before they hit that familiar old post they left off on from their last visit?
It takes me quite a while to go through all the ones I follow and I don’t even follow that many. But I do get through everyone. I know what they’re up to, which is why I followed them in the first place. It means I’m interested in each person. But if you’re following so many people that the individual gets lost in the abundance of memes and controversy-of-the-week type rants, then what’s the point? What are you getting out of it?
I don’t like change so I don’t follow too many new people. ‘Cause when I follow someone, my feed changes. And it’s usually not for the better. It’s not so much that anyone is annoying or not interesting. It’s just that I’m a douche bag. But I think it’s also because I want to be careful with who I follow because I already have a full plate and a limited attention span. If I’m with you, I want to give you all I have. I don’t want to follow you and then now follow up with a little communication. I don’t want you to get lost in the shuffle. You’re more important than that.
I used to assume other people worked that was as well. People got to know me and know what was going on with me and my life. They saw each post, read every word. ‘Cause why else would you follow me, right? But sometimes I check on users I follow and who follow me and see they are following hundreds of others. And I realize that, compared to the handful of people I follow, my posts probably bleed into everyone else’s. I am probably scrolled past because there’s hundreds of images and words to get through and no one has time to dedicate to my long-ass text posts. I always hoped the content would hook them despite the length. But that just isn’t the case.
But I’m just not like that. And that’s when attachments become one-sided. You forget you’re not as special to someone as they may be to you. While you’re breaking your finger to scroll through the endless fuckjerry’s and beigecardigans, I’m focusing on you. And I like your stuff. And you like mine. But only occasionally. And it’s hard to understand that your acknowledgement is really just a like-and-run. Nothing really absorbs or resonates. You pepper your feed with red hearts while my heart is grafting onto you. You peruse analytics while I analyze you as a person.
And “liked” become messages become attempts at genuine friendships, which are shrugged off in favor of favoriting a funny quote instead. And I’m let down. And every time your screen name pops up, it pops me in the face. And I realize I’ve been stupid and have developed feelings for someone who can’t tell me apart from the other bearded guys they follow. I feel lame with a quivering stomach and confused heart. I gotta stop this now before this one-sided situation goes any deeper.
I gotta let you go. I unfollow and my feed gets that much smaller. While I deal with my feelings and try to move on with this unresolved relationship, wanting you to know I felt and how much it hurt, I know you’ll never notice me bowing out, replaced by hundreds of other memes and montages. And it sucks. But I have to remember that I never really knew you that well in the first place. I have to remind myself my chest ran ahead of my skull. It was my fault, really. Time and Tumblr do not a friendship make.
But I did like you.
I’ve tried to be a good person. I’ve always wanted to be accepted and trusted and I’ve made great effort to be the kind of guy that people could come to for laughter, guidance, or at the very least, a comforting presence.
That doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I have so many flaws that my face burns with shame. I’m lazy, selfish, and judgmental. My emotions range from complete apathy in regard to serious subjects to near mental breakdowns over simple slip-ups. Yet despite my irrational tendencies, I try to rise above them and be reasonable. But one person’s reasonable is another person’s bat shit crazy so maybe I’m not doing such a good job. All I can do is try my best. I know I falter. But overall, I hope I do a decent job. I think I’m likeable. I think I make people happy.
But the one thing I’ve neglected is my own happiness. During my life, I’ve met a lot of people who were not good for me. When I was younger, I didn’t always recognize these unsavory souls until later on in the relationship. More recently, I’ve been able to spot them fairly quickly. In either case, I have trouble letting these people go because I don’t want to be the bad guy. Remember, I want to be the one people can talk to, not the one people talk about. I’m always worried the end of a friendship will lead to bitterness and bad memories.
Despite my reservations on removing people from my life, I’m starting to find there’s been a shift in me. As I’ve gotten older, or maybe just more fed up, I am starting to understand the importance of these bad influences being taken away. But each time I consider cutting someone out, my fear of being irrational pops up again. What if I’m blowing things out of proportion? What if I’m the one in the wrong? What if I am just someone who can’t take a joke at my own expense, someone who is too sensitive, someone too needy to be neutral?
But the one question I’ve not thought to ask myself is, “Does it even matter?”
As I prepare myself to say goodbye to a friend, I always feel like I have to have a definitive reason for letting them go. What was the one thing they said to me that I could no longer tolerate? What was the one big event, the one final insult that pushed me into pushing them away for good?
There is usually never one moment or memory that comes to mind. It’s mostly cumulative, a collection of snide comments and false sincerity, lack of support and abundance of superiority. But it’s hard to put someone’s behavior into a single sentence that could sum up my decision. Fortunately for me, when I do decide to stop talking to people, they do not ask for evidence. Most of the time, they don’t even notice. That by itself should be reassurance enough that I did the right thing, that the friendship must not have been that rock-solid in the first place. Still, the doubt lingers.
It still makes me feel better to have a go-to motive for severing ties with others. But I sit back and realize it doesn’t matter if there’s a motive. Maybe it’s not so much about being rational but being resistant to putting up with anyone who makes me feel bad. There’s no right or wrong. People behave differently. Some behaviors mesh. Some do not. Being incompatible with someone does not mean either person is bad or that anyone failed. It just means sometimes we are better off not being around those people. In your life, people are either going to help or harm you, and many times these actions are unintentional on the other person’s part.
We have to take care of ourselves and if someone isn’t making us feel good, we don’t need to be around them. It’s really that simple. That’s not to say we should immediately and entirely break it off with those who give us the occasional side eye or insulting slur. But when the not-so-good feelings are frequent, it’s time to say goodbye.
Although I still struggle with to be liked and although I do feel like I let people down when it’s time for me to bow out, I know I’m doing the right thing. I’ve taken care of too many hearts other than my own and now it’s my turn for some TLC. But still it does hurt. I still think about these people. I still miss them. I wonder if they miss me, if they feel bad, if they feel anything at all. They keep moving forward while I feel stunted. I feel their void almost every day, even if I’m the one who put it there. It would just be nice to know that someone else cared as much as I did. That’s one of the side effects of ending friendships. Sometimes when you cut people out of your life, you’re the only one left bleeding.
So, I took about a month off from most social media. After the complete failure of my book, I felt pretty bummed. It’s not so much that I expected to sell one million copies but when you can’t even get your friends and family to read a book they know is so special to you, it’s disheartening in the worst way.
And because I’m passive aggressive, I thought, “I’m just going to remove myself from the Internet for a while, see if I leave a hole of some sort. Maybe someone will miss me.” I needed someone to realize I was gone. And I needed it to make a difference for them. It was a sad (and lame-ass) attempt to feel like someone cared about my existence. But, um, no, no one did. I’m sure no one noticed I was gone.
It’s kind of amazing how much we can expose so much of ourselves online yet still be so invisible. In a sea of memes and selfies, it’s hard to find recognition. Especially if you aren’t very good-looking. If you’re not a shirtless dude or a girl who constantly hoists her boobs into every selfie she takes, not many people are going to give a flip about your book or song.
These days, people seem to care more about lip fillers than a fulfilled life. I can’t really blame them. I love a good cat GIF as much as the next animal lover but all these junk food-like distractions keep us from relating to each other. Although I want to laugh and be entertained and shut off my brain, I also crave connection. I want to know my struggles are not my own, that someone has already plowed through the path I’m going to have to travel on one day.
Maybe I wouldn’t take all of this so personally if I didn’t rely on it so much. If I had friends and fulfilling relationships, I wouldn’t need to lean on anonymous Internet accolades. But when I was younger, I was weird and the Internet was my only friend. Now that I’m older, I still leave people scratching their heads and the Internet is still the only one who seems to listen, to recognize, to give me some semblance of a mutual understanding.
I’ll never look better than I do right now. And my memoir was the best writing I’ve ever done. So, if people can’t get on board with my beard or the way I bared my soul in my book, I suppose there’s nothing I can do to win anyone over. And I’ll just have to be okay with that.
After the disappointment of my book, I contemplated whether or not I should ever write anything ever again. And there are many days when I feel I’m done with writing all together. But there are also other days when I still feel this strong urge to write. It’s not all about attention but about resolution as well. Even though I’m virtually unseen, I am still very much a human with complicated emotions and a thought process that could rival a hurricane. And with no friends to confide in, I must turn somewhere to organize the mess, to release some of the pressure, to try to make sense of the situation that’s been handed to me.
I started writing as a therapy tool. And then I thought I might possibly make a career out of it. But now that I see it will never happen, I’m falling back onto the therapy. And I think I’m really only doing that until something more effective comes along.
So, from hiatus to hi, I’m back (at least for now). But I want to shift my focus, to post more of what I want instead of what I think others might like. It’s almost kind of freeing because it’s not like most people are going to see any of this anyway. I tend to filter my writing with an audience in mind. But with the realization I have no audience, it’s time to get more real, to go deeper, to be bolder in the exploration of my disgusting existence. I want to examine the desolate husk I’ve become, not to find a solution as I’m far too gone for that, but to purge myself of the hatred and the agony, to be clean for when I come to the end of the line.
I’d better hurry. It won’t be long now.
Last Wednesday, I was minding my own business when I felt a sore throat come on. This was odd because I usually wake up with it. But I actually felt it happen in real time. I wasn’t too concerned because I’ve had minor throat irritation before but it usually went away by the next day. But this one didn’t. The next two days passed by and I took some over the counter medication to try to nip it in the bud before it became too bad.
It didn’t get any better. My throat became so sore it was hard to swallow or even move my head around. I also lost my voice.
I reported to work like normal since I didn’t have many paid vacation/sick days left and I certainly didn’t want to waste them unless it was absolutely necessary. I only had a few days of work and then three days off, so I thought I’d be able to make it through and then take my days off to recover.
I made it through but things continued to get worse. I developed a nasty cough and a runny nose. I felt dizzy. I made an appointment to see a doctor. But that meant I actually had to get out of bed, get dressed, and go out in public. That thought usually pains me even when I’m not feeling like crap so it was exceptionally difficult that day.
Not only did I feel (and look) terrible but I saw a lot of old acquaintances while out. The nurse at the counter of the doctor’s office is the mother of my high school classmate.
While I was in the waiting room, one of my high school teacher’s walked in. My former teachers usually don’t recognize me so I kept my head down and she never seemed to notice. Even when the nurse called my name to be seen, my teacher didn’t turn her head in recognition.
And when the doctor came in to see me, he commented that he hadn’t seen me in about 5 years.
“I see on my notes here the last time you came to see me that you were studying animation,” he said. “Whatever happened to that?”
The dreaded question.
I had to explain that nothing ever happened to that, that I no longer felt passionate about animation, and that I had “retired” from drawing.
“What are you doing now?” he asked.
“Working retail,” I said. My already small voice had faded even more.
It’s always embarrassing to have to explain how my big dreams of being an animator fell through. And I always worry if people think I’m padding the truth, like I actually failed or dropped out. No, I graduated. I was just too much of a coward to do anything with my degree.
And when I went to get my prescription filled at the drugstore, I saw my former co-worker there. Hadn’t seen him in ten years. He asked what I was up to and I explained, in the same sad, small voice, that I was working in retail.
It doesn’t help that I’m also fat now. These people who haven’t seen me in such a long time now see me as overweight, balding, and working a crummy job folding shirts for pennies. The years haven’t been good to Bran. More like, Bran hasn’t been good to Bran.
I graduated from college about five years ago and that’s an ample amount of time to run into a lot of old friends and past acquaintances, to explain to each and every one of them of my shortcomings and failures. And it has sucked each time. And each time I have to explain that I’m basically doing nothing with my life, I feel that fire of shame in my chest. But over the years, the pool of former friends has dried up and I’ve had to explain myself less and less. But even after all these years, there are a few stragglers that still show up in my life and I have to bust out the explanations one more time and feel the fire again. I hate it and it’s just another reminder of my pointless existence. As if I needed a reminder.
It’s all perception. I know I’m harder on myself than anyone else is. I’m sure the doctor and the co-worker probably didn’t think twice about my life update. Sure, I’ve gained some weight since they saw me last. Sure, I’m not in the best occupation right now. But does that make me beneath them? Of course not. And did they think that? I’m sure they didn’t. But the paranoid part of my brain felt like they did look down on me. I always have this suspicion that everyone thinks I’m trash and I hate having to confirm it every time I see them.
One of the annoying things about living in a small town is it feels like I’m always on top of everyone else. Or, more specifically, it feels like everyone else is always on top of me. It’s suffocating. There’s no privacy or anonymity. Everyone knows me and my business. I just wish I could have sneaked in and out of the doctor’s office and slipped in and out of the drugstore, ninja-style, and then nose-dived into the safety of my bed, and cuddled up to the comfort of my penicillin and pillows.
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’m stuck at 17 years of age and it’s depressing.
I feel like I’m getting too old for social media. I’ve really gotten into Tumblr recently and I don’t know if it’s just the type of followers I’ve accrued or if they are representative of the majority of Tumblr users but most of them seem to be young, high school/college-age kids. And I’m a post-college pudge ball who can still relate to their emo musings and pubescent longings. It makes me question my emotional maturity.
I think there might be something to Freud’s idea that we get stuck in certain stages of life while we grow up. I’m not sure about all the creepy sex stuff but I think there are certain rites of passage most young people go through on their way to adulthood. It’s the ups and downs, the lockers and lip-locking, the friendships and failures. Really, it’s about the experience. Each event is a potential lesson that serves to mold you into a well-rounded character.
But I haven’t experienced much, all through my own doing. But even lack of experience can shape you, although sometimes, as in my case, it hasn’t shaped me so much as it has flattened me out.
I never felt like I got to be a regularly teenager. I spent the majority of my time eating and watching television in my room. I was fat from the beginning so I had that complex hanging over my head and that crushed my confidence from the start. Being a weird artist didn’t help matters. I couldn’t relate to the jocks and cheerleaders. Football was a religion and I was an atheist among the athletes.
I went to very few social gatherings. I wanted to talk to people. I witnessed my peers mesh with ease and I wished that could be me but my belly formed too big of a barrier.
I mustered up enough will to attend the homecoming dance and prom but I didn’t have anyone special to go with so I went with friends and at the end of the night, instead of going to the backseat, I went back to my room and to my bag of chips.
I didn’t make out. I didn’t hug or hold or give anyone my class ring. I didn’t have many friends. I was lonely a lot. I was also full of acne, which increased my desire to dig a hole in my bed and wallow in it for all of eternity.
And without being taught by my parents, I learned about art and God on my own. Homophobia and racism and misogyny never made any sense to me. And frankly, neither did church. But I still put effort into God because I felt it was the right path to take and I felt the difficult into finding God must have had something to do with what all the preachers said about how terrible we all are as humans. But I didn’t need a preacher to inform me of my shortcomings. I knew that all by myself.