If you haven’t seen the film, Manchester by the Sea yet and are planning to, then you may want to skip this as I am providing a small spoiler.
There’s a conversation towards the end between Lee, the story’s main character, and his nephew Patrick, who he’s tasked with taking care of after his father, Lee’s brother, has died.
Lee is not the person he once was, having gone through events in his own life which profoundly changed him. He’s isolated, distant and spends every day just trying to get through to the next because that’s the only coping mechanism he has to deal with what he carries with him.
Sitting across the table from his nephew, Lee tells him in the simplest terms something which not everyone is able to admit to either themselves or another person.
“I can’t beat it,” he said
A few weeks ago, not long after my life took another one of its patented right turns into a tree (this time quite literally), I was sitting with my cousin having lunch and she said something I’ve heard from more people over the years than I can count at this point.
“You have to stop being so hard on yourself and beating yourself up like this,” she said.
About a week ago, I was having dinner with someone I hadn’t seen in years and said something she knew as well as I do. I hadn’t planned on saying it, but in the stream of consciousness that was leaking out of me at the time, the words found their way out.
Beating the shit out of myself is the one thing I’ve always been good at, I said.
I wish that wasn’t the case. I really do, but it’s true….and I can’t beat it.
It’s not for lack of trying or because I’m being stubborn and just don’t want to, either. The fundamental problem I have is that when I start to feel anything close to what counts for happiness in my life, like taking the long climb to the top of a roller coaster, I inevitably go over the crest and then it’s back down into all the experiences, reminders and reasons for why that happiness will never be anything more than something I’ll keep trying to reach for, but ultimately will never get.
Over the years, I’ve had I don’t know how many people try to convince me that I’m something better than what I think I am and in the moment, it’s easy to believe them, because I want to. Who doesn’t? Who wouldn’t want to know that the people they care about can see the best sides of who they are, especially when they can’t?
Unfortunately, such respites are usually brief at best and there inevitably comes a point where I’m by myself and all the self-animosity I have stockpiled over most of my nearly 40 years reminds me that it’s not going anywhere before giving me a full-scale retaliatory strike of every bad, terrible, hurtful and stupid thing I’ve ever done.
I’m reminded of everything I’ve lost and the even harder pill to swallow, that I can’t get that time, those moments…those people…back, no matter what I do.
And when you’re left trying to make sense of it all, searching for answers and being told that you can only find them by taking a long look in a mirror, because why would anyone else ever want to take any responsibility for the hurtful things they do to someone, how can that person not be expected to want to turn away in absolute disgust at their own reflection?
I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, but to fully understand it, you’d have to be willing to see things from my point of view.
I’m not amazing and neither are the things I’ve done just to get by.
I had to accept a long time ago that no amount of rights can correct even a single wrong, and at the end of the day, I still have to live with both what my life is and what it was and I don’t have the luxury of being able to forget.
I’ve tried. Many times.
And when I start to think I might be able to put some distance between them and myself, that’s usually the point where I get to start reliving them all over again because my subconscious is nothing if not sadistic that way.
I don’t know if there will ever be a point when I will be able to look at myself or my life with any degree of emotion that even begins to resemble happiness. I know that’s not what you want to hear any more than I really want to say it, but it genuinely feels like too much time has passed and the best I can hope for are those all-too-brief moments where my self-perspective isn’t so harsh.
Otherwise, it’ll be a case of getting through each day and onto the next one, because that’s what I know.
But that part of me that always puts me in my place and reminds me that I have no right whatsoever to the things that I know would make me happy is always going to be there, no matter how many doctors I talk to or how many happy pills they tell me to take.
I can live with it…but I can’t beat it.