I remember, in hazy detail, the moments when, as a child, I decided I hated school and couldn’t wait for it to be over.
I remember standing in the great open hallway of my elementary school after coming inside out of the rain. It was still pitch dark outside, so it must have been during the time of year when the sun takes it’s time to rise (is that summer or winter? I’ve never quite understood how daylight savings time works). I can imagine a squeak on the floor from the wet shoes of kids all around, and the low humming murmur of talk as people went toward their classrooms.
So much of this is based on a memory of a memory of a memory, that I likely blended several different moments together. But I remember talking to a teacher, and I remember her being much taller than me. It’s funny how you forget what the world looked like as a child, when everyone and everything is taller than you, when you’re slinking around just beneath everyone’s field of vision like a cat. You always look up: look up to talk to people, look up to ask to be picked up by your parents, look up to play video games or see the television. I remember a teacher telling me that school lasts for twelve years, from kindergarten to first grade all the way up to twelfth grade, and I would be eighteen when I graduated from high school.
I remember a feeling of hopelessness in the pit of my stomach. I had always felt uncomfortable coming to school. As a young child I was very close with my mother who raised me alone after I’d been through traumatic early childhood experiences of abuse, and I trusted her completely and felt upset when I was away from her. This isn’t unusual, any child misses his mother. But what bothered me so much about coming to school was that it was mandatory, that I was being forced to come here, and what’s worse, five out of every seven days, for all of my forseeable future. When you’re six years old, you don’t have a concept of what it will be like to be eighteen one day. Eighteen might as well be thirty-two. To be in the first grade and to be eleven years away from any hope of escape from something I never asked for was unbearable. It felt so unfair. Why did I have to come to school? Why did I have to wake up so early, why did I have to leave my mom and my home where I felt safe and where I was happy? I was a smart kid, what use did I have for coming to get an education, especially when so much of that education in the early days was stuff I’d already picked up on my own?
Anyone can relate to this feeling. People cope with it in different ways. I don’t remember when I learned that you have the option of dropping out of school at the age of sixteen, but I remember contemplating if I might one day do it. I also remember my teachers rhapsodizing about the importance of a high school diploma. “With a high school diploma, you can do anything in this world!” Funny, the lies we’re told, but I guess in 1996 it didn’t seem to be a lie to the people saying it, maybe at the time a high school diploma really could get you further than it can now. Now there are people with bachelor’s degree who work menial service jobs.
I always looked forward, from the very beginning, to the final ending of school. I had absolutely no desire to go to college, I wanted school, this thing that I never asked for which was foisted upon me without my consent, to be over. It seemed to me that I’d waited with the patience of a saint for it to finally finish, and as the end of high school finally approached, I felt that maybe I would soon feel some grand sense of release, the relief of the final day of the school year when summer break comes, except stretching on boundlessly for the rest of my life. A world of possibilites where I don’t have to be trapped, locked inside of a building for seven hours a day.
When we’re kids, we don’t really understand the concept of going to work. The monotonous routine of school is designed to emulate the monotonous routine of nine-to-five office job. As I said, people cope with it in different ways. Some people love the structure of a school day, and they take that structure into their adult life, thriving on the steady, unending repetition of Monday through Friday, nine-to-five, and the relief of weekends. There were of course times when I too appreciated the routine, even in it’s monotony, because of the sense of security that comes with a routine, and with knowing what to do without being told. Knowing which hallways to walk and which bathrooms to use and which classes it’s safe to break out a sheet of paper and draw on the back or read a book instead of doing your work.
As an adult, I sometimes long for the structure of a nine-to-five job, but the closest I’ve ever come was a few years ago when I worked for an Amazon seller, in their Quality Assurance department, and worked eight-to-four every Monday through Friday. At first, it felt safe, and I relished the weekends, but eventually it began to feel even more suffocating than school, because now there was no purpose the way their had been with school, I wasn’t going to work to earn my way towards something like a diploma, I was just going to earn a paycheck, which I would use to sustain myself until that paycheck ran out, and then live on the next one, and the next one, without end. I had my high school diploma but it had earned me nothing more than a spot being a cog in a machine which so closely emulated the one I’d been a part for twelve years in school, except now I was no longer a child, the object of everyone’s hopes, being praised for how bright and articulate I was, encouraged that I would some day be a great writer or musician or actor. Now I was just a guy sitting at a desk, listening to podcasts and sending emails to Amazon for eight hour blocks, pausing for an hour in the middle to reheat last night’s dinner and read a comic or play my PSP at lunch.
It was all just leading toward nothing.
And really, it hasn’t changed much.
I turned twenty-nine in May of this year, and now in November, six months later, I am still facing the same existential crisis that began a month or so before my birthday: what have I done with my life?
It’s a question that haunts my every waking moment, and a thought that creeps it’s way into every conversation I have. I’m very bad at keeping things hidden, it hurts me terribly to do it, and I have to talk about my feelings, whether I mean to do it or not, and over and over again I find myself confiding in people that I feel I’ve wasted my time up until this point, and on a deep level I feel that my youth is coming to an end. Of course, people older than thirty will say that thirty is still young, but teenagers and people in their twenties, myself included, see thirty as a milestone, a sign that you’re an adult now, that you have yourself figured out, you have your shit together, you know who you are and where you’re going and what you’re going to become.
But I am just as aimless now as I was ten years ago, just as confused and naive and afraid as I was when I was six, looking up hopelessly at a woman explaining to me that I was serving a twelve year sentence in public school. It seemed to me an injustice had been done toward me, that I’d been imprisoned for a crime when I’d done nothing wrong. Adults tell you, as a child, how important education is, but you don’t understand it or care at the time. Even kids who excel at school don’t really understand the necessity of it, and every school child has either heard the words come from a peers mouth or sometimes out of their own, “What’s the point of this? When am I going to use any of this in real life?”
It’s funny though. Because you use everything in real life. Every piece of information you’ve ever absorbed is woven into the fabric of the way you see the world.
I’ve always seen the world differently from people around me, and I know that that’s a pretty common thing to say nowadays. Everyone fancies themselves an outsider and an underdog and thinks that their perspective is so unique that no one else could possibly understand. It isn’t really true, it’s just that the people who do understand are far away, or you haven’t met them yet. And being a bright little boy in North Carolina in the nineties and early two-thousands, who would grow up to realize he was gay, he never truly felt a connection with Christianity, and never saw the world through the narrow, limited view of his family or the people around him, you can imagine how hard that must have felt.
Part of what scares me so much about “becoming an adult,” that is to say, turning thirty, is that I still view the world with the same childlike naive confusion that I felt back then. I’ve learned, of course, I’ve become wiser over time, I’ve had my life experiences, and layers upon layers of trauma, emotional distress, and more anxiety than any person ought to be forced to endure, even though I know there are people who endure much worse than myself. But part of what makes life hard for me is that I have an essentially fragile constitution. Emotionally, I can’t handle confrontation, change, or danger. I have a need to feel safe, stronger than most people’s need, and so I repeat certain rituals to make myself feel that I’m safe. For most of my life this has been playing video games (RPGs especially), while simultaneously watching television (usually sitcoms or other light-hearted comedy shows). It makes me feel safe to come home, eat, and play video games while listening to Youtube essays or episodes of funny shows. I don’t even laugh, usually, it’s just the light-heartedness that makes me feel safe.
My life… it’s been scary. There’s been a deep, abiding fear for as long as I can remember. My grandmother used to stay up late at night, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and tell me and whoever else was assembled there at her apartment about the traumatic experiences of her life: how she was a long-haul trucker for decades, the people she met, how she met a young soldier on leave from the military riding home on a motorcycle to surprise his family for his own birthday, and how she later found him lying in a ditch, having collided with a truck that’s lights were broken and how she cradled him, dying, in her arms, and in his terrified and hallucinating state thought that it was his own mother holding him, and how she cooed him gently, telling him he was safe, that mama was here. She told us about her abusive, alcoholic husband, who held a knife to throat of his young daughter (my mother), and laughing sadistically, told her that he was going to take away the thing she loved the most, because it would hurt her, and how she held a shotgun toward him, waiting for the moment when he finally pushed his daughter away and she had a clean shut, and then pulled the trigger and blew him out the front door into the yard, and how she dropped the gun and chased him out, grabbing blankets and shirts and pillows on the way, to stuff the gaping, bleeding wound in his stomach and keep him from dying before the ambulance arrived.
My grandmother’s stories were frightening, sad, and left all of us who listened to them sitting in amazement. She made supernatural things seem possible, because she was such an effective and believable story teller that when she attributed something to God or to divine intervention, it was easy to believe she had to be right, because she was so good at telling the story. The most convincing one was about my own mother, who before her birth, apparently died while in the womb. She was told at the hospital that she’d lost the baby, and she refused to accept it, so she just left and went home. After a few days she got sick, and was taken back to the hospital where she was told the baby was beginning to poison her blood stream and had to be removed. She was still in shock, and at the same time she was in the hospital, so was her own grandmother, in a room across the courtyard from her own, so that she could see into the room where her family gathered around her grandmother’s bed, and when she saw them begin to cry and saw someone pick up the phone and heard the phone by her own bed ring, she knew it was her family calling to tell her that her grandmother had passed away. And it was around those moments that she felt the baby inside her kick, and she frantically called for a nurse, who frantically called for more nurses, and a flood of medical professionals and equipment was brought into the room and they began running tests on her, and my grandmother, distraught with grief and confusion, grabbed the sleeve of the doctor nearest her, and asked “What has happened to my baby?” And as though it were a line being delivered in a movie, he said to her, “I cannot offer you a medical explanation for what has happened, ma’am, but I can say this: the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”
It was, during these moments in the middle of the night, listening to my grandmother tell us her life stories, that I felt something mingled with the weariness of being a sleepy child who stayed up way too late: a consuming fear. The kind of primal fear that there’s something inside the closet and if you look up you’ll see it’s eyes staring back at you, that if your foot escapes the confines of your blanket a hand will reach up from beneath your bed and snatch you under. It was that same fear. I can’t really explain to you what it is, but it’s been with me my whole life. I don’t experience it all the time. But it’s the feeling that right now as you read or write or talk, there is someone standing just behind you, staring, their eyes boring into the back of your head, and that if you look just over your shoulder you can catch them. The feeling that there’s someone in the back seat of the car waiting to come up behind and strangle you, someone whose face will suddenly appear in the bathroom mirror when you close it. The feeling of the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end that have since the dawn of humanity signaled danger from predators.
You might have felt something of what I’m saying and looked behind yourself just now. I did while I was writing it. It’s a common feeling. But it hits me in very acute ways, sometimes. And it’s not an incredibly common occurrence, it’s not something I deal with on a daily basis, but that’s partially because I have learned to surround myself with things that make me feel safe, like video games, bright lights, and most of all, funny TV shows. Like I said, I don’t always laugh, but the light-heartedness makes me feel safe.
For the past few days I’ve been dealing with this fear I mentioned, because I’ve been binge watching or binge listening a Youtube channel called Found Flix, narrated by a guy who goes through the plot of movies and explains what happens, as well as elaborates on twist endings and theories about future movies. He speaks in a somewhat monotonous voice that becomes a little grating after a while because he’s always gently shouting to be heard by his microphone, but the videos are each about fifteen to twenty minutes and they’re addictive, so I occasionally will fall down a rabbit hole watching them. Whenever I do, I usually end up watching and listening to his videos until late into the night while I’m playing video games, and as I get sleepier, I begin to again feel that creeping dread, the sense that someone is just behind you. Walking outside to my car is terrible during times like this because my house is in the woods and there’s very little light, and the cats outside make disturbing shapes before I realize they’re cats.
And so, here I’ve been, the past few days, feeling a little vulnerable because of how often alone I am at home (I live with my brother who is always either at work or in his room with his door closed), and also feeling an encompassing void with how I’ve been spending my time off. I’ve had three days off this week, today being the third (though not consecutive), in which I’ve done more or less nothing on my off day.
When I do have a day off, it usually starts the same, I wake up, I probably jerk off, I get up and drink coffee and play video games and watch shows or Youtube videos for a while, because it’s what I do when I’m relaxing. Then a few hours have gone by and I remember that I need to do something productive with my day. For me, productivity is writing or going to the gym, and I always intend to do both, and often do neither. I almost always drive somewhere.
Driving is the thing that makes me happiest. I usually feel the excitement someone might feel about going to Disneyland when I know I have a long road trip ahead of me. I love getting my car cleaned out, getting a trash bag ready for all the food I’m going to eat along the way, and stopping at the gas station to get snacks and soda for my trip, then starting up a music playlist or an audiobook and starting my GPS to prepare for a drive that may take hours and hours. I feel an incredible sense of hope and potential when I’m on the highway, and when I’m inside my car I feel safe from the outside world, where I can control the temperature and the music and the entertainment, and I can pull over whenever I want or go to a rest stop or a restaurant whenever I want. I feel most in control of my life when I’m driving. My car is a safe and happy place for me, the place I feel most at home, probably more so even than in my bedroom, because my bedroom is at my family’s house, and being with my family is not something that makes me feel safe.
I have so much that I need to do.
My greatest regret in life is that I haven’t gone to college, and it’s not just because I need a degree, but because I want to have the experience of being in college, of being around other young people with fresh ideas who want to go out and live life, to find a friend group, to have a lot of sex, to try drugs and drink, to meet people who share something with me, to feel a sense of belonging I’ve never had, to have the ability to go to someone else’s dorm or apartment and just sit on their couch or lay in their bed. The commune, the safe brotherhood of other people, their friendship enfolding me. This is what I’ve pined after my whole life, and what I’ve never truly experienced, instead spending my days alone, on the couch or my bed or in a chair, playing video games and listening through headphones to music, to audiobooks, to podcasts, to Youtube essays, to TV shows.
My goals for today were to begin, yet again, the process for applying to college, which I’ve started many times but never finished, to go to the gym and do some kind of physical exercise to help me toward losing weight and overcoming both the type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea I struggle with, and to write in my blog, this one in fact. I’m writing this over on Blogger, rather than on my usual WordPress blog (although I’m likely going to cross-post is there), because even though I’ve been blogging since 2010, I often feel the need to reinvent and start over new. I’ve tried on several occassions to number my blog posts, so that I can say “I can’t believe I’ve actually reached number one-hundred!” or something, but there’s just no good way to do it, because my blog entries have been written at different times for different reasons with different potential readers in mind, although always they’ve been for me, and not really for anyone else.
I’m not influential enough to have my posts read by a wide array of people, but I like to imagine that one day I will be successful and people will care about what I have to say, and they’ll scour the back logs of things I wrote throughout my twenties to see what I had to say then. In the current 2019 climate of combing through someone’s back log to find incriminating evidence with which to label them problmatic and decide someone is “cancelled,” I’ve made some of my old posts private or deleted them altogether. I don’t think it’s wrong to keep your old thoughts up online, I think it shows growth. I don’t want to be judged in my thirties for something I thought in my twenties, but that’s the world we live in, and I’m hoping that pretty soon people will come around to the idea that everyone is problematic, everyone is always growing and evolving, and people shouldn’t be held responsible for an insensitive or bigoted thing they said, particularly without intent to offend, years and years ago.
So, I’m hoping this post will be entry number one in a new chapter. My old blog isn’t going anywhere, but I’m toying with the idea of trying things out over on Blogger and starting a “new” blog, which is something I’ve actually done in the past and ultimately gone back over to WordPress, but I’m going to try it again just to give myself a bit of a reason to keep writing. With a fresh slate I can keep coming back here and journaling, which is essentially all that my blog has truly been all this time.
I often feel that the past decade of my life has consisted of so much wasted time and potential. It’s a harsh thing to say because it implies I wish I hadn’t have met the people I’ve met in the past ten years, and there are people who I love today who I wouldn’t want to disappear, but still, if I could go back and do it all again, I might do things very differently. The first thing I’d do is find any way, no matter how difficult, to get far away from my family and stay far away, something which I still haven’t managed to accomplish today. But college would have helped me find friends, find a support group, find a way out. I wish I’d gone to college when I had the chance to do it without so much fuss, and without needing to juggle a full-time job along with it to survive.
A friend of mine from high school is now an English professor at a local community college who promised she would help me to get applied, and now all I have to do is just do it. I wanted to start the process today, along with putting in applications for a new job as I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable where in my current job, but I didn’t get any of that done. I did, however, write this, meandering as it may be, and that is something. My friend, the English professor, says that she knows I’m a good writer, that she can tell I’m talented. I know this too, but it’s hard sometimes because of an issue which I’ll talk about at length another time, the fact that I have difficulty finding my own voice, in every avenue of life. I assimilate the styles of my friends and influences and emulate them, and I don’t know if there is a truly unique voice within me, unless of course I’m wrong about what the concept of originality really is, and every unique person has always been reinterpreting the world around them and reflecting their influences through their own prism, which of course I know is true, but it’s still difficult because I don’t know who I am yet. I don’t know my own voice as an artist. I appreciate my innate ability to emulate the writing style or musical style of other people, but I also have the fear that someone else will see right through me: this passage reads just like Anne Rice, this song sounds just like Tori Amos, that kind of thing. And the reason I’ve been writing tonight in an ornate, circuitous style is actually because I’ve been reading Anne Rice, and there’s a particular quote that really struck me today, from Interview With The Vampire, that I feel really captures how I feel about the way other people affect me, as a writer, as a musician, and as a person:
“I didn’t know I thought these things. I spoke them now as my thoughts. And they were my most profound feelings taking a shape they could never have taken had I not spoken them, had I not thought them out this way in conversation with another. I mean that my mind could only pull itself together, formulate thought of the muddle of longing and pain, when it was touched by another mind; fertilized by it, deeply excited by that other mind and driven to form conclusions.”
The narrator, and my favorite character in Anne Rice’s chronicles, Louis, also in the next paragraph refers to “the great feminine longing of my mind being awakened again to be satisfied.” I feel that way too. I have my own thoughts, my own style, my own music, but it waits to be touched and fertilized by someone else, that’s the starting point, and then I’m off. But I don’t have the starting point. It’s funny, because as I hope I’ll write about at length, I have a real reverence for the male aspect of life, for the male form and the male mind and the mind being, and I wish so dearly that there were a movement like feminism for men, that was about the empowerment and appreciation of men without the toxicity and chauvinism that tends to ordinarily imply, a wholesome place where men could appreciate and respect and love themselves and one another as men, and to organize around the issues that face men which need societal addressing (i.e. male victims of abuse, circumcision, the favoring of the American court system toward mothers even when they are unfit parents, etc.). And here I have what Anne Rice, who herself has said she doesn’t really identify strongly with any gender or see people with any gender, might describe as a feminine mind, a feminine longing to be fertilized by another. Tori Amos fertilized my musical mind, Anne Rice fertilized my writing mind. And I hope there are more and more who will fill me ideas that I can transform to create my own stories, my own music, my own voice made up of others, as all voices really are. A chorus of voices in one person.
We’re all made up of the experiences of our lives: the squeaking shoes on the floor of the school as the kids march in from the rain, my grandmother recounting her harrowing life stories through the smoke of a cigarette, the days and nights sitting in quiet, sedate calm with a video game controller in my hands, looking in the eyes of the first boy I fell in love with on my fifteenth birthday, the moment another, different, young man first pressed his lips against mine two years later, the shiver up my spine and weakness in the small of my back as I was kissed and finally, finally, felt safe. The aching hours spent in regret that I’ve done so little with all this time that I’ve been given.
Struggling, even on a day when I feel I’ve accomplished next to nothing, to believe that the life I’ve been wishing for, the day when the loneliness will finally end and the world will open up like the highway on a long drive, when I will feel the warmth and safety of smiling and laughing friends beside me, and the warmth of lovers in my bed at night, will finally fill my life with the meaning and the purpose and the hope that I’ve been longing for since those first days of sexual awakening when I was thirteen and thought surely it would be years and years and years before I ever felt the satisfaction of someone who loved me. I thought that by thirty I might have begun to understand, but I am confused by life’s questions now as I was then, and afraid, afraid of being alone as well as being without purpose.
This is my small attempt to find meaning in a day that doesn’t go wasted.