Every last little thing is a distraction, a spirit magnet to pull you up out of your body into places that it shouldn’t be. Every time you turn to something new, it becomes another master of your time, another master of you. You went looking for a comfort in the things you poured down your throat or pressed against your eyeballs. Every social interaction saw you begging someone new for comfort. But you found no comfort anywhere, and no escape either. Just more borrowed time piling up everywhere, and you running out of time to pay it back.
What permeates the writing from those years is the sad, unrelenting clutching to promises life had no intention of keeping. The perceptions others had of you, so often twisted and deformed by an imagination kept glutted on these promises. People’s responses to your behavior were always doubtlessly the results of them being endlessly fascinated by your genius and charm. When they threw up cold shoulders and stopped inviting you to parties, it was a sure sign that a much more magnificent group of individuals was waiting just around the corner.
For the past several months, your writing has reflected just how stunned you’ve been by your stunted growth–having finally stopped hiding from social obligations and “real” work, and stepped out into the world to face people just as you are. At every lunch with colleagues and church gathering, it is made clear again and again that the people of the IAH were reacting to a child who insisted on repeating behavior that once made him friends.
For you, who has a head still rich with fog and slow to grasp basic life truths, what hope is there of ever becoming a man who will leave his mark upon the world–when you can open book after book written by men and women who had figured out so much more than you, but still fell short of dying happy, choosing instead to exit early?
What hope do you have of making a mark with your words, when words come cheap and aplenty these days (and so very few bother to read, anyway)?
You have no hope of making anything resembling a mark, which is what makes your writing of today distinctly different from the writing of all those other years. The hope born out of false promises has all but left, and what you cling to now is a grim sort of ritual–an obsession with witnessing what might pop upon the page next, much the same way a narcissist might be obsessed with his face, needing to review it constantly in the mirror for any and all marks of aging.
You find infinitely more joy and delight in the writing of others, but feel as if you are not keeping some kind of promise you’ve made to life if you choose not to write. As much as life has failed to keep most of her promises, you are too beholden to her not to keep your own.
you stand inside a body that fools you into thinking you could be bigger than you are. from a distance, in front of the right mirror, under the right light, you are fooled again into thinking you could market yourself based on looks alone–with a smile, and a squint, of course. the kingdom of heaven, however, is deep inside you.
heaven is also up above you, but any attempts to ascend there before your time will be met with a soul’s condition that could be likened to being drawn and quartered.
deep inside you, God packed a lot of information, and there now Jesus dwells. for, you could envision Jesus in your heart, as if he’s lurking about in the left atrium, or think of “heart” as being the “heart of your soul,” the root, the source. and, if Jesus now lives at the fountainhead from which all of YOU springs, then you become a completely different sort of thing.
which is why they reject you with their eyes when they see you coming, why their conversation drops, why you aren’t invited to become a friend of theirs like you once were with various random collections of cool kids.
the kid with Jesus deep in his heart is not the cool kid on the block, anymore.
if you’d been really sincere in your pursuits of easter religions and purely scientific approaches to viewing reality, it may have been okay. but, we all know that you were simply pursuing such foreign bodies of thought to run away from your destiny.
how many times have you checked the news in the past six years, thinking that you’d seize upon something this time that would carry you toward your true state of being, knowing all the while at a deeper level you were actually running.
you pleaded with eyes of the women you met, “save me, make me who i truly am.” and, most of them (fortunately for you) were scared away by this mad manchild reeking of issues far beyond the scope of anything they’d been trained to deal with in a man.
does everyone seek a savior somewhere, some time? or, as society grows farther away from God, is the notion of needing a savior now non-existent in the lives and minds of so many you try to connect with?
you’re either at the maximum peak or final trough when you find yourself here.
you’ll be rummaging through books on design, architecture, poetry and science.
you’ll want to stop at whole foods or central market for booze and appetizers.
you’ll be living in a state of carnal violence or a world of hermetic silence.
you are cresting on the high of having a girlfriend that validates your weird.
you are muddling through the bracken ooze of only knowing four-legged friends.
you will be carrying the books home to bury them in overdue fees. the computer
is the mistress you’re most faithful to, even as she blunts your unused senses
in more a/v crack that makes you sleep after several swallows of wine or beer.
you’re either at the maximum peak or final trough when you find yourself here.
you will see yourself the next day, singing in a church, with other penitents.
(you’ll actually still be in bed with hangover head, admiring tv churchgoers.)
you will however, pray to wake for another day to play the game of recompense.
your prayers are answered by that Master who will let you live out your fears;
to help you craft a plan for becoming a man who’ll get to see how it all ends.
the only question is whether you’ll be lying in a pool of blood, or a shooter,
giving his best for the glory of God and country in a mess of shallow defenses
while working a bottle or a book, scanning a mirror, wishing you weren’t here.
…and you so completely and utterly realize that you have been headed in the wrong direction for at least twelve years. But, it’s okay, because you have no idea where it was you were supposed to be headed, and things aren’t really so bad. Then, out of the blue, it really strikes you where you should be right now. You rent Hotel Rwanda, and you are mad with tears and frustration, feeling your impotency as the helpless witness. Maybe you want to help fight HIV/AIDS, but you don’t know a damn thing. Perhaps the Democratic party could use you on a campaign, but they never call you back. What about going back to school, but that costs money and takes time, or starting your own business to raise money, yet, you need to raise a lot of venture capital and commit at least three years of your life to it to turn a profit.
You start reading My Life, and you realize now every damn thing you woulda coulda shoulda been doing the past twelve years. You want to meet new people now, new people who want to do more than drink and see bands. You’re ready to have discussions with people who disagree with you. You aren’t afraid to raise your hand in class anymore. What the hell? Why did true manhood and social maturity converge at the age of 30? Talk about a late bloomer. Sure, some of them never outgrow the drinking and band adulation. You never saw yourself as being exactly one of them. You envisioned some moment when greatness would pluck you out of obscurity and lift you up into the heavenly realms of celebrities and pundits and politicians.
Perhaps endless wanking on your guitar would get you there. Maybe writing poetry or a novel. Could it be all you needed to do was go downtown and hope a famous movie director was visiting from out of town, and would immediately see what a unique and talented fellow you were? Maybe a summer of jogging in the 100 degree heat would give you the ability to run marathons like an Olympian. How about those half-assed letters tossed off to the President or Senators in hopes that somehow your words would pierce the hearts of not only the staff but their leader as well? Of course, don’t forget the notion that returning to your prison to learn web design while making a lot less money would propel you into six-digit figure status in some utopian post-dotcom boom.
Pretend you are starting over. Or, pretend that you are so much more knowledgeable and capable than you really are. But, get the hell out of there. Don’t spend another seven years there. Don’t spend another year, or six months, or even a month there.
What if you were completely annoying them all, even as you thought you were doing remarkably well at being socially interactive, participating in conversations, and not being a shy slouch off in the corner nursing beer after beer? What if they were all completely disgusted with your manners, body language, choice of words, timing to enter the conversation, ability to say something relEt, etc.? You thought you were doing fabulously, speaking up even when not spoken to, occasionally dropping a wisecrack, taking interest in more than say, one person, at the party. Meanwhile, the you that everyone saw wasn’t anything like the you that you felt you were being. You went home alone, thinking a lot about the old guy Alby who never married, lived with his dogs, and was retired from social work. That could be you, easily, “a queer sort of fellow,” as he described himself, likely meaning “odd” rather than “gay.”
You have very little to offer someone, anyway, when it comes to a laundry list of interests—favorite movies, sports teams, restaurants, bands, outdoor activities, and so on. You write a little bit, which you don’t really tell anyone, because you don’t really want anyone you know reading what you write. You run, you hike with the dog, you occasionally paint, and sometimes you do go out and eat somewhere, but hardly anywhere new and exciting. You don’t watch TV, you only go to the movies once every ten months, you rarely even read books anymore. You are so obsessively focused on your work, that it’s amazing you have anything at all to talk about at a party.
And you know what? You aren’t going to change a thing about yourself, because you find it tiring to work up the energy necessary to seek out that laundry list of things to like or not, so you can carry on conversations. You enjoy having an empty head, a head that stays mostly relaxed and free to roam about the universe when it isn’t focused on work.
And you know what else? You really don’t care what they thought of you at the party. You decide this after giving it some thought, because once upon a time, you really would have cared. But, honestly, both you and they lived out your lives the way you did before you ever came together, and you likely will continue living out your lives when you all move on to different places. And old Alby? Everyone likes him. He’s nice. Why not die an old, nice, well-loved man alone, rather than an old, bitter, crabby man hated by wife and kids and in-laws after years of bickering over petty bullshit?
look back over the course of the day, how in moments of reflex, you are still the same person you no longer want to be. look at the meeting of eyes in the hall, the question of how much to smile and make eye contact and when to break it. the concern for seeming aloof or pissed off or something, and the concern for seeming overly interested, flirtatious, inserting more meaning and innuendo into a look than there ever was meant to be.
think about the moments when you shared a nice conversation or laugh with someone, and how they treat such as a matter of course, but for you it’s a big deal, a momentous occasion, a real treat after conversing with only your computer or your dog for hours. think about those busy people who are too hurried to say hello to you in the hall or respond to your emails–do they understand the message they are sending back to you? you confront them about it, and it’s always something like “oh, i have such a backlog of email,” or “i was just getting ready to write you back,” but then, of course, they never do.
it really gives you perspective on what you mean to others. you are just a blob, floating through the day, and they know that you are a human, and by some law of social correctness, they are required to smile and say hello, but they really aren’t taking the time to experience you as a human. oh, i have to say hello to that blob walking by me–what’s his name? kevin? korey?
think how happy you become once you go back to the way you were when you first started there–you are a nameless, mostly faceless blob. nobody sees you or knows you as a friend, as a potential lover, as a confidant, as a person they need to be engaged with on any level other than a hello in the hall. your organization has this mission about being more engaged with the community, yet so many of them seem to be disengaged with anything other than the work right in front of their noses on their computers or at their meetings, and their own little personal lives–when 5 PM rolls around, everything shuts down, all of the good work they say they do stops for the day. time to go to a bar, not to a soup kitchen.
they don’t want to be too engaged with each other or with those under them, it would seem. it is easy, i know, to get really cynical about some of these things, but you can’t keep the rose-colored glasses on forever. there is another side that is emerging, a disconnect between the words coming out of lips, and what you see people doing. and, just what the hell are some of them doing? you have to ask to gain perspective: if your organization dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, would your community survive, would things rapidly deteriorate, would anyone care?
the answer is, of course, yes and no.
and, ask the same question about you as a member of your organization. the answer is, of course, no. my organization might not get its website updated for a couple weeks, but then, someone would come along or step in, and things would move on with the new website and memory of me would slip to black.
your mama made you feel special, son, and now she’s gone, and it hurts like hell to see just how unspecial you are to anyone and everyone around you. you are more sad some days about not having mama on this earth to validate you than you are sad about her precious being no longer being here. it’s a terrible truth to confront, one that has taken you almost this entire year since she passed to face it. no, of course you miss her and roy, your little brother, hearkening back to that last trip to florida before puberty took you away to your room and your social life and didn’t return you until months before roy died.
down there in florida, the summer i was twelve years old, reading that book about the apocalyptic state that had befallen the country and how only a return to Christianity could save us. picture of me without my honking bigass old man glasses, looking like i felt–something was seizing me, grabbing me, possessing me. next summer, after a rude shock of a year in school, finding myself falling into trances and having these visions of people dancing at a cult, like a feeling of dejavu that sometimes comes over you only magnified a million times until you’re queasy, full of vertigo, and reality slips away. the usual night terrors as well leading up to roy being moved upstairs out of his little baby room to share the bedroom with you–the room that garry vacated to go off to the marines. compare that picture of you and roy in front of the holiday inn van in san diego seeing garry graduate with the picture of you in florida the next summer. your both acting goofy, making goofy faces and you don’t care. then, you are scowling, already finding it somewhat uncool to be out at the beach with all of these babes around you in your jeans with your mom and little brother. and the scowls kept coming, and the fight to find purchase in this new manbody, and the fight to find some type of cachet with the cool crowds, but ending up on back porches cold missouri winters with a plastic cup of light beer from the keg in one hand, wearing your flannel shirt you bought to make you look alternative–thinking you might just end up in conversation with some babe, but no.
most days, you still can’t help but scowl. you look in the mirror now, and see the same acne that has plagued you for these twenty years, but the hair is thinned and grayed to make you look and feel fifty two not thirty two. your work is still so indirect. you are developing a website that will promote a cause that will hopefully bring more people into the fold to do good and give money to good causes. you are not helping people yet, except when you go to tutor. you’re alone, tired all the time, easily depressed, unable to snap out of it, forcing smiles, trying hard not to let them see how you’re really feeling at almost any given moment, and surely this is aging you as much as anything, forcing your organism to animate itself and be alert and full of energy–then, of course, seeing a look on a face that says it thinks you’re too cocky, or that you’re mocking that face, or perhaps the face is just afraid you’re something too damn weird inside to ever get any closer to.