You know, it sure doesn’t feel like it’s been a whole year since I hitched my car to a trailer and proceeded to drive 3,005 miles from the Pacific Northwest back to New England.
In a lot of ways, it feels like lot longer than that…a decade, at least.
From the beginning, I knew this was way beyond just an insane idea. I’d told all my friends back in Portland as such when they came out for my going away party on my last trip down before leaving the desert.
“I have no clue if this is going to work,“ I said. “But with everything I’ve been through both in the last six years and pretty much everything before that…I’d like to think I’d earned the right to finally find a better life for myself.”
My plan for once I got here was simple. I’d spend as much time as I could everyday until I secured a job so I didn’t have to spend any more time under my cousin’s roof than was absolutely necessary.
In hindsight, that was my big first mistake and I should’ve recognized that red flag sooner.
I did manage to get a job, albeit after being here for almost three months. Even though I knew from the second I walked in the door that it was a temporary gig, as time passed and circumstances changed, it was looking more like a possibility of something permanent.
Of course, about a month ago, I was given my walking papers with nothing more than a, “Thanks for bailing us out for the last ten months, but you’re not worth anything more to us than that.”
To be honest, I’d seen that particular red flag coming a mile off. Unfortunately, not of the other opportunities I pursued to get out of that situation didn’t pan out.
And so…here I am a year later with pretty much nothing to show for what this last year has been except for two things.
Experience and knowledge.
So here’s what I’ve taken away from the grand experiment that has been Life 3.0 so far.
1.) Life isn’t fair, regardless of which side of the world you’re on.
Maybe because, in my heart, I wanted this to work as much as I did because the last thing I wanted was for my life to feel like it was as much of a complete failure as it did when I lived back in the Pacific Northwest. It didn’t take me more than a few weeks than to understand that Boston is a town that will force you to be tougher than you usually want to be.
It’s also a place that, for all it’s talk of opportunities, is no different than anywhere else when it comes to who gets those opportunities. Speaking of…
2.) The greatest enemy a person can confront is the Culture of No.
Among the many pieces of advice I got before setting out on Life 3.0, one of the most prevalent ones was to leave my rose-colored glasses behind. And with how pragmatic and cynical my life has required me to become, that wasn’t all that hard to do. I realized inside of the first few days that this part of the world is not the same home I grew up in, but my rationale was that being in a new climate meant I would be able to find new opportunities that would not be undercut over and over again by the Culture of No, like it had been back in Portland.
Turns out that the No is alive and well over here too, and it’s not just the endless battling against it that’s so draining to a person’s soul. It’s the reality that were it not for that culture, the opportunities that would allow me to get back to zero, at the very least and start up again on an upward trajectory, would be all the more accessible.
But that grind takes the best parts of you and reduces them to pretty much nothing and as much as I felt it when I was in the Pacific Northwest, I feel it even moreso now.
3.) All the positives in the world aren’t enough to overcome the negative.
If there is a modus operandi typical of the Culture of No, as I’ve come to understand it, it’s this.
They will talk up what they see as your superlatives in every conceivable direction and then tell you in no uncertain terms that they don’t ultimately mean a damn thing.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a professional or personal situation. They will run down the list of all these positive things you supposedly possess, trying to pick you up just enough that when they come back with the inevitable follow-up of, ‘and this is why none of that matters and you’re not getting what you want…’ the impact of that drop back to reality is all the harder and it hurts all the more.
It makes you question just what the hell is the point of spending your life trying to fit the definition of a good person when that proves to have no value whatsoever in terms of convincing either someone you’re emotionally connected to or who could provide you with a potential livelihood that you are worth it.
4.) Family is, indeed, about a whole lot more than who you happen to be related to.
As much as I wanted to have both a job and my own place to live waiting for me when I got to New England, that wasn’t an option. So I ended up crashing with aunt’s old house, now taken over by my cousin and her side of my jolly, dysfunctional clan.
That lasted three months and ended on rather unpleasant terms, which didn’t surprise me one bit, really.
One of the underlying parts of my choosing to come back home was the reality that my family has been shrinking with each passing year. When I was sent out west, I still had my parents, my brother, two grandparents, two aunts and uncles and a great swath of cousins who were spread out all over the place.
My grandparents are now all gone, as are my paternal aunt and uncle. My relationship with both my mother and brother have been severed for years now for a myriad of reasons, but I figured there had to be parts of my family that I could still connect to and have even a decent relationship with now that I was back in closer proximity.
Yeah…so much for that.
It turned out that the people who constitute my family at this stage in my life are those people who aren’t related to me, but for all intents and purposes, have proven themselves to be more worthy and deserving of the title than those who occupy the withering branches of my particular tree.
Honestly, I’m okay with that. I’ve given my family more than enough chances to show me that they cared enough to be a part of my life. They opted not to because they either don’t, won’t, or can’t understand the person I’ve become in their absence, and I don’t have the time or the energy anymore to keep trying to explain it to them.
5.) Retirement is becoming a more permanent reality.
I’ve been alone now for nearly seven years. Before I left, I had an acquaintance tell me that I should make sure I find myself a girlfriend as soon as I can once I get home and I understand why.
That’s a rather long time to go without being in the company of a significant other and in the current climate where people can find ready-to-order dates, relationships and even short-term hookups through a million different apps and websites, logic would assume that there is someone out there for me.
Except there isn’t. Because I’ve been reminded more times than I ever want to count of one simple truth:
No one will have me.
How do I know? In the course of those seven years, I allowed myself to ponder that of all the women I know, there’s two I would’ve considered coming out of retirement for because I felt comfortable enough around them that my anxiety, my massive trust issues and social awkwardness wouldn’t be as big a deal as it were if I started from scratch.
Over the course of the last month, they let slip that they were also part of the Culture of No. That for all the positive things they see in me and try to remind me of, those things aren’t good enough for them either.
Faced with that, the days when I feel the loneliness that comes with Retirement is tempered by the understanding that that void in my life is likely never going to be filled, regardless of how I present myself.
And you know? That’s okay. Really.
After spending my whole life trying to convince the people I care about that I’m worth their affection, only to be told either directly or passive-aggressively that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me, I’m beyond tired of putting myself through the wringer trying to fit their expectations.
6.) If someone burns a bridge connected to me, DO NOT attempt to rebuild it.
Of all the things I’ve had to learn, this is the one I’m the most conflicted about.
I went through this twice this year with people I genuinely loved to differing degrees and for the most juvenile, selfish and immature of reasons.
Both times I tried to reconcile and was met by acidic, hateful vitriol in the one case, which came about because I simply disagreed with how their treatment of our mutual friends. The other was one I’d spent years trying to repair only to be met by the complete silence of being ghosted.
It bothers the hell out of me on both accounts and those experiences have fundamentally changed how I’m going to deal with such situations going forward.
There is no point in trying to rebuild a bridge with those who opt to drop napalm on them. You can be the most self-aware and self-deprecating person in the world. You can take responsibility and accountability to your mistakes as much as you want.
Those people don’t care. They’ve made and justified their choices and nothing you can say or do is going to take you of the little box they’ve put you in and slapped an arbitrary label on.
And as much as it hurts. As much as you don’t want to and as much as you may want to find a way to not stoop to their level by meeting both disregard and disdain with the same, there isn’t much of an alternative.
Taking the high road and wanting to fix broken relationships looks good in theory, but reality is far from what exists in badly written Hollywood scripts and fanfics. You cannot rebuild a bridge alone and if the other person isn’t willing to put in the work themselves then let it go.
There’s a million more things I could add to this list, but these are the biggest takeaways I’ve made from this past year from Hell.
For all that, though, I guess the fact that I’ve managed to get through it says something about me.
What that is, I’m not sure that’s for me to decide or define. I know it’s made me stronger. It’s made me more self-sufficient and smarter in how I bide my time. Along with all the hard times, I’ve managed to fit in brief interludes where I’ve been able to get a break and find places that have kept my spirits afloat enough to not be sucked under by the bitterness, , distrust, disappointment and misanthropy that have become harder to ignore.
My friends and loved ones keep telling me that if I can hold out for a little while longer, then something is going to finally break my way.
I keep trying to tell myself that every morning and maybe Life 3.0 can give way to a better Life 3.1.
I genuinely don’t know. That decision is not entirely in my hands, no matter how much I wish it was.
All I know is that I absolutely do not want to go through another year like this again.