Object at Rest

I woke up this morning feeling a bit out of sorts, but not for reasons that had anything to do with Depression, grief or any other piece of emotional upheaval.

It was the realization that today was day one of a weeklong break from working out that was both earned and necessary.

Five months ago, I walked into the YMCA gym here in town and started what’s been the most prolonged exercise regimen I’ve ever undertaken and I did it for two reasons. First is that I was on the doorstep of forty and had spent much of the past 25 years both overweight and out of shape, and the second was that being required to live out of my newly-acquired jeep for however long it took to acquire enough job security to allow me to get an actual place to live again, I needed to build a routine that allowed me to still function as as much of a human being as I could under the circumstances.

So every five or six days of the week, that’s how I started each morning, even when I didn’t feel like it mentally or physically.

Exercise, like any other acquired skill, requires a high degree of self-discipline in order to sustain it and I’m the first to admit that for a long time, that’s something I lacked. Sure I told myself in my 20s and 30s that I needed to get in shape again and I’d put money down on a gym membership, but it wouldn’t take long before my inherent knack of coming up with excuses had me spending more time on my couch and less time working out.

To be fair, I also freely admit that this doesn’t make me any more or less special than anyone else because it’s something which plagues all of us. It’s far from an earth-shattering revelation to understand that self-improvement of any sort takes a lot of work. The internet is awash in kajillions of memes and pretentious cliches’ reinforcing that very narrative, after all.

But for me, it was a simple matter of needing something constructive to do to give me a break from my current predicaments, if for no other reason than the benefit of both my physical well-being and my admittedly fragile sanity.

To say it’s been an easy thing to sustain is to not take into account just how much of a genuine grind it can be. Most of the time I’d wake up wanting to do anything but throw on my gym clothes and work until pretty much every part of me was even more sore and unhappy than it already was. Some days, I may feel physically fine, but emotionally, I lacked any sense of motivation, which forced me to tap into my trusty reservoir of anger just enough to get me up and moving.

And that’s managed to be my routine for the past 150 days. I go work out, get cleaned up and ready for work, go get some food and try to relax for a bit, go to work, go back to camp, sleep it off in the barely comfortable confines of my Jeep and then rinse and repeat the next day.

But over the last week, however, my body has been telling me a lot of things that I really can’t ignore anymore. Pretty much everything from my ears down is one big knot of aches and pains. I was walking around the office yesterday like a guy almost twice my age, even though I’d try to take it easy.

I know it doesn’t help that I’ve been doing all this on a right ankle that’s been falling apart for a few years now and I probably need to have it operated on. Still, I try not to think about it or let it slow me down and I think it speaks a lot to our cultural nature to push ourselves, both physically and emotionally, past what’s safe or even logical, often to our own detriment.

Stepping back and looking at it, it doesn’t really surprise me that the last thing I want to do, now that I’ve managed to build up this degree of momentum, is to hit the brakes and stop for a slight period of time, even though it’s in my long term best interest to do so.

I remember being praised when I was younger for what was considered by those doing said praising, for my work ethic. I didn’t take days off. I didn’t do vacations. I didn’t half-ass my job once I was on the clock. If anything, I pushed myself to do more. Always do more. Make sure that whenever I was done, I’d done all that I could to guarantee I could come back tomorrow and keep getting that paycheck.

One of things I had to come to terms with as a kid was that being stuck in lower-class America, I didn’t have the same opportunities that all the rich kids or even middle-class kids, were going to have handed to them. If I wanted to get anywhere, it meant accepting that every day, every year, was going to be one huge grind that I had to just endure and, if I was lucky, I’d get to a point where that was no longer necessary.

But it’s called the grind for good reason, because the very word itself is defined as ‘breaking or reducing something down through the process of crushing into small particles.’

And once you narrow your vision into the myopia of outlasting the grind, you become totally blind to what the process takes out of you with each turning of the millstone.

Twenty years of trying to withstand the grind has cost me enough to understand that I should have stopped trying a long time ago and I would’ve been fully within my right to do so. If anything, getting out of that cycle would’ve helped me to the point that it would’ve saved my sanity six years ago. The problem, though, is that had you told me so at the time, I would’ve probably told you to piss off because with everything I was dealing with, the absolute last thing I thought I could do was stop and take care of myself.

Because in our culture, bucking the grind is considered lazy or selfish. It speaks to being irresponsible or apathetic, which is also irresponsible and dangerous because of the demands it places on a person to keep going past their very real and very important limits are.

I didn’t listen to myself when I needed to then and it cost me the life I both had and could have had, and yet, as I sit here writing this, it’s hard to ignore the constant message going off in my head telling me, ‘Okay, I’ll give you one day off, but tomorrow we’re going back to work whether you want to or not.’

Except I’m not. Not this time.

Newtonian Law dictates that an object in motion stays in motion, which also means that regardless of intent, there’s an exponential degree of probability that that object is inevitably going to crash into something that irrevocably alters its trajectory.

An object at rest, of course, tends to stay at rest and regardless of the social taboo surrounding that concept, it’s far from a terrible thing. If anything, it’s essential to a person’s well-being to do precisely that for as long as it takes to feel better both physically and emotionally.

So, for the next week, I’m going to be at rest because I’ve both earned it and because I need it. What I’m going to do to pass the time, outside of still having to go to work, I have no idea.

I guess I’ll figure it out as I go.

Grief Process

When I walked into the boxing gym on Friday, I knew something wasn’t quite right.

You know those days when you wake up and you just feel…off…somehow?

You feel a little more raw inside and you can just tell where it’s a day when your fuse is a little bit shorter and your tolerance for the world as it currently stands is that much less. At least, that’s pretty much how I felt.

I don’t remember who it was who told me that the reason why I shouldn’t be afraid of boxing is that it affords me a chance to “empty out the attic,” as it were, of all the negative, painful things cluttering my mind. And while I know this may make me seem like just another knuckle-draggin’ Cro-Magnon, alpha male wannabe, I have to admit that in my life, I really haven’t ever found a more helpful outlet that comes anywhere close to standing in front of a heavy bag, or now a speed bag, and just letting my hands go, as the boxing cliche goes.

The greater majority of the time, I go through my usual paces and by the time I take a break, my hands are pretty much spent. Friday was different though.

Every time I felt close to being done, with my arms and lungs on fire, my knees sore, my back cramping up, sweat pouring into my eyes so I couldn’t see, I’d walk away from the bag only to have something go off in my mind. An emotional cocktail comprised of one part white-hot anger, one part pure adrenaline and one part of the worst sadness I’ve ever felt.

Shake well and chug away.

The best way I can describe it is in that moment, nothing hurts anymore, even though everything hurts. And as intense as that emotional state is, it’s also quite scary. The whole point of learning a martial art, even boxing, is centered around building self-discipline. So when you suddenly find yourself tapping into something in your being so ferocious that discipline essentially goes out the window…?

I suppose that’s not too much different than jumping out of a plane and realizing a thousand feet into the adrenaline rush that you forgot to strap a parachute to your back.

By the time I was done, I felt like my arms were going to fall off and I was going to pass out. In hindsight, I’m genuinely surprised I didn’t break a hand or tear something, considering how many times I got a hit of that cocktail in the hour or so I was at the gym.

I guess what scares me more was the thought that I could keep going, even though I’d managed to drain myself of pretty much all the energy I had.

So, the question becomes what brought that on? Why was that occasion different than pretty much any other of the past 140+ days I’ve been at this exercise routine?

The answer is that it had been three days since disconnecting from my friend and both the withdrawals and the grief that came with that decision had become too much to ignore.

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve heard the insane double-standard of how men are somehow not supposed to do anything but internalize their emotions, especially when it comes to loss of any sort. It’s like it’s somehow assumed that guys are preternaturally disposed, from the time we’re born, of being able to not outwardly express themselves unless it’s to the betterment of someone who wishes to be the recipient of it.

I can’t say I’m angry, because that a stigma and taboo about how men are always angry and hostile because every guy is inherently a misogynist, even if the source of said anger originates from something done to me by a person of the female persuasion.

I can’t say I’m sad, because that’s another stigma and taboo about how men don’t cry. We don’t show sadness. We’re all about the stiff upper lip, the cold shoulder, the turned other cheek, the dignified soldier quietly soldiering on.

I can’t say I miss someone or I want things to be better with that someone because that’s yet another set of stigmas and taboos dictating that I’m supposed to just suck it up, Snowflake. Move on. Get over it already.

And I absolutely can’t say that I ever loved someone because that puts me in range for the stigma and taboo of being a nice guy, a needy guy, a toxic attachment and thereby must be avoided like the plague.

In the Internet and social media age, it is easier to slap stigmas, taboos, labels, -isms, and every other contrived definition on each other than at any time in human history.

Editorial Note: No joke. I googled ‘Guys you shouldn’t date‘ and was inundated with article after article that created archetype upon archetype for women to steer clear of. BTW, Gents: if you like video games, you are most definitely confined to the strata of total losers according to self-declared dating gurus online, so keep that in mind before telling admitting to a potential significant other you occasionally indulge in a little Skyrim or whatever when you need to blow of a little steam or not be bored.

I’ve had a long time to figure out who I am, both the good things and bad things. I’ve also had a long time to get a pretty good idea of what people think I am.

What bothers me the most about walking away is that I know that a huge part of why this relationship fell apart is because of things I couldn’t control bleeding into the things I could control.

I know that, if circumstances had been different six years ago, then there’s a very real chance that I wouldn’t be writing this now. That maybe we’d at the very least still be able to carry on the relationship as friends which we’d managed to have up to that point.

I’ve had friends tell me a lot that that there’s no point in beating myself up over it now and while I see their concern and I understand why they want me not to do that, they also don’t have to live with it like I do.

So I grieve this loss of someone who I loved. And I did genuinely love her. Very much.

I didn’t plan it. I wasn’t looking for it. It wasn’t the result of my doing anything extreme or untoward. Hell, up until the moment when I was finally honest with myself about it, I fought it with every fiber of my being.

It happened and I grieve it as much because it’s the product of both my actions back then as much as her inactions now.

I grieve because I know that for the rest of my life, I know I will inevitably catch myself thinking about her whenever I hear or see something that accesses one of the happier memories of our time together that I dearly hope I’ll never forget.

I grieve because it leaves me angry with myself that I couldn’t salvage the bridge between us after years and years of trying. I look at myself and wonder what I could’ve done. What I should’ve done. What I should’ve said or not said when I had the chance six months ago.

I grieve because unlike every other time in my life I’ve had my heart broken, deep down I know this was the last time I’m going to leave myself that open and vulnerable to someone. When I was younger and my emotional armor was thicker, I was able to heal up, shake it off and try again when whoever I thought might be the right person came along. If there’s one thing I’ve had to begrudgingly accept in all this, it’s that I don’t have any armor left.

I grieve because right now, all that separates us is maybe 20 miles of city sprawl and a whole lot of history and uncertainty that I hoped we could somehow shed, so long as we could meet somewhere in the middle, both emotionally and spatially. If, somehow, we ever manage to get back in touch with each other again in this life, I’m pretty sure we’ll be separated by thousands of miles and even more uncertainty.

Going forward, I know there’s going to be a lot of rough days ahead. Days where I will want, more than anything, to toss a message in a bottle out into the great social media sea with the fleeting hope that it might come back with a response. Days where I’ll be on the subway or walking around town and there she’ll be.

And I know there’s going to be days where I’m going to be standing in front of that hundred-pound of bag of sand and I’m not going to feel better until I’ve channeled all the rage and pain the last six years have brought me into it.

Ask any psychologist and they’ll tell you that grief is a process. Like it or not, I guess this is going to have to be mine.

Exit Wounds

I don’t want to do this. I really don’t.

For most of the last few days, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I don’t need to either. That I’m being defeatist and am giving up too easily and that if I hold out a little longer then the fragile little ball of hope I’ve been clinging to will somehow be rewarded.

Well…I’ve been hoping for six years, five months and a couple of days and as much as I hate it, as much as I have been a stubborn fool and refused to believe otherwise, as much as I’ve put into trying to rebuild and maintain a relationship that has been very important to me…it’s long past the point where I finally admit and accept it.

It’s over. I’m done.

And the fact that I even wrote those words out just now…I hate it. I absolutely fucking hate it.

Seriously. Just looking at them makes me want to punch a mountain over, it upsets me that much.

When you meet someone for the first time, you can never really anticipate what sort of impact they’ll have on your life from then on out. Walking onto campus as a college student in 2008 was hard enough, considering I was a decade older than most of the kids I was going to be graduating with, provided I made it that far. The last thing on my mind at that point was the idea of interacting with anyone at all, to say nothing of making actual friends.

I wasn’t there to be social. Had I been another twenty-something with a clean slate of a life ahead of me then my attitude would’ve no doubt been different. But I was on a mission. I was making up for the ten years of time I’d been robbed of by forces beyond my control and decisions I would soon come to regret.

In my dangerously myopic frame of mind, my aim wasn’t to be the life of the party because there wasn’t going to be a party of any sort until I was done.

And yet, I ended up meeting people anyway and the next thing I knew…I suddenly had friends I hadn’t had before.

She was one of them. I couldn’t tell you why we clicked or how we managed to click. We just did.

At this point, I want to be as transparent as humanly possible. The path that leads from where our friendship starter to where it is now is strewn with moment after moment where I categorically and undeniably screwed up. Badly. This isn’t a case where I am the hapless victim and this is a one-sided situation, nor would I presume to define it as otherwise.

There are no black hats vs. white hats to be found here. Like all relationships, we’re both guilty of being the grey hat at one point or another along the way.

By the time I graduated, I figured that we’d remain as close of friends as we’d become and we’d keep in touch, but it was the inevitable point where we went our separate ways to the next stage of what our lives would be.

What I failed to anticipate at the time and in hindsight there was honestly no way I could see it coming, was the fall of three very big dominoes: totally losing my mind, my life completely imploding because I’d totally lost my mind and the eventual realization once the implosion brought about by my totally losing my mind had finally ended, that my feelings were no longer platonic.

Of course, it didn’t end well. This many years later, I honestly don’t know how it could’ve ended any other way and that twists the knife just a little bit further, the more I think about it.

You can’t just walk off insanity. It’s not a broken bone or a bruise that eventually heals up and fades away. You can’t walk off getting your heart broken either, but you can run away from the hurt it causes and that’s precisely what I did.

I packed up my life and ran away.

The first time, I ran across a river. Second time, I crossed a desert. Third time, I crossed an entire continent and came back home, even though I knew full well that of all the places in the world she could’ve gone, she’d chose to come here.

That was a frightening enough prospect in its own right and I suppose it’s in keeping with the oxymoron of being a romantic sociopath to suggest that my motivation for coming back to Boston was subconsciously tied to the possibility of something right out of every cheesy, stupid rom-com ever made.

You could make the argument, sure…but you’d be indescribably wrong.

How do I know that, you ask? How can I make that conclusion, you ask? Because I remember how the bridge between us burned down the first time.

I remember being demonized and vilified with accusations of things which I hadn’t even thought of and in a million years would’ve never even considered acting upon. I remember being so afraid of going back into Portland on the slightest chance that we might cross paths and what that might bring about, if it were to happen, that I declared entire sections of it as OFF LIMITS to me unless I had absolutely no other choice but to go there.

I remember the years I spent telling our mutual friends that it was my fault and entirely my fault that our relationship was what it was because that best fit the narrative which had been established by the both of us. And despite that. Despite all that crap. There was still a part of me that wanted, more than anything, to finally set things right, whatever that was, and to see if it was humanly possible for two people, who’d gone from one side of the spectrum to the polar opposite, could somehow meet back in the middle and co-exist.

So a few months ago, we managed to sit down together for a few hours and tried to have a conversation. I won’t lie and say it was everything I hoped it would be. It was awkward and I didn’t say half of what I was thinking that night, mainly because I was trying to keep myself from giving into both the anger and fear that was blasting away in my head the whole time.

There was no plan or goal, no ulterior motive, other than seeing if we could get through that initial conversation. If we managed that, then my hope was at some point down the line, we could have another conversation and then another after that.

I left that night with the understanding that it was possible. Turns out that appears to be the only conversation we’re ever going to have.

You ask a hundred people how to define closure when it comes to relationships and I promise, you’ll somehow get 101 answers. Everyone thinks they know what is the right way to walk away and when you should stop turning a blind eye to the writing on the wall.

The friends I have left have been telling me this since this all went sideways. That I need to let it go. I need to stop torturing and blaming myself for how and why this all went sideways and move on with my life.

I understand what they’re saying and why they’re saying it. I do. It makes total sense and it also neglects one simple, inescapable fact.

It hurts. It hurts like nothing else I’ve felt in my life and I’ve lived long enough to know just how downright painful it can get.

And if I’m brutally honest, the worst part is that whenever I feel like I can do it, I finally convince myself that I can handle it, I get the first twinge in my chest and I recoil away from it as fast as I can because I’m terrified that it’s going to kill me.

What happened between her and I wounded me deeply and I’ve tried everything I can think of over the last six-plus years to help myself heal from it. What I haven’t tried yet is walking away…because I don’t want to.

But it seems like I don’t have a choice anymore, either. Every attempt to stay in touch since our conversation has been met with ghosting. That, it seems, is the closure I have been given.

It doesn’t feel like it. Not one bit. And I don’t know how this can be considered the better option or the wiser course of action, but it wasn’t my call.

I don’t know the first thing about what it feels like to be shot, but I’ve been around enough cases of other people who have that they told me it wasn’t the bullet going into them that hurt so much as when the doctors tried to get it back out.

I’ve let this emotional bullet sit in my heart for too long. If nothing else, I suppose I owe it to myself to get it out. What scares me now is the thought, however rational or irrational it may be that even if I do, I don’t know if I’m going to be okay afterwards.

Can I handle the pain it’s going to take to pull that damn thing out…am I going to be okay?

Crimes and Punishments

It’s a weird place to find yourself in, to be sure, trying to figure out what was the worst thing you’ve done in your life.

To be fair, it’s not something we’re inclined to think about and for good reason. We’ve spent centuries teaching ourselves that there’s nothing really to be gained by looking back at the mistakes we made, while simultaneously propping up the cliche that Those who fail to learn the errors of history are doomed to repeat them.

One of the things I’ve had to accept about myself is that as unpleasant as it may often be, it’s impossible to not be always looking over my shoulder at the path I’ve traveled from where I started to now…and I don’t always find that to be a bad thing, either.

Considering how much time I was made to spend dissecting my history and the person I’ve become as the result of it with doctors and other supposedly learned and informed people, I suppose it’s only natural for that to have carried over to now through nothing more than good ol’ Pavlovian conditioning.

For me, the answer to the question of what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done is way too easy because it’s so blatantly obvious. However, that also comes with the factual reality that I was a child at the time, so depending on your particular attitudes, that can either be excused under some degree of rationale, or it makes no difference at all.

So taking that off the table for the sake of this argument, the question then becomes, what’s the worst thing I’ve ever done as an adult?

For most people, I would expect responses along the lines of perhaps cheating on their taxes or being unfaithful in a relationship or maybe being too promiscuous at some point or another. Maybe you experimented with drugs a few times in college or drank too much, or you wrecked your car, or you ran over someone’s pet, or a million other things which you carry as a regret, but on the whole, it’s not something which has had an overwhelming impact on the life you have now.

If being alone and relatively isolated for six-plus years gave me anything, it was time and space to take a long, hard look at myself and figure out where things started running off the tracks.

And as best I can tell from as objective a standpoint as I can take, the worst things I’ve done as an adult, crazy as it’s going to sound…is trying to make a better life for myself and letting myself fall in love.

Now I know what you’re going to say. ‘Hang on…how can you think that that’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? That’s what life is about!”

While I would agree with that observation, I would add that that is how it works for most people. And as I am constantly reminded with each passing year…I’m not now, I never have been and I’m probably not ever going to get in the same ballpark as most people.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with pursuing goals or aspirations. To the contrary, it’s an intrinsic part of who we are as a species to be driven and ambitious as it’s part of our innate self-evolutionary process that spans our lives from the time we’re born to the moment we die. That process is also perpetually fluid and morphing as our interests change.

But the primary objectives for each of us has always been both universal and consistent. We all want a better life for ourselves and we want someone to share that life with.

For me, the unpleasant realities of my childhood and adolescence only made my desire and drive to meet those two objectives all the more intense and by the time I was out of high school, I understood that it was up to me to make them happen.

So I did, or at least I tried to, but what I wasn’t prepared for and really couldn’t anticipate was the amount of both passive and active resistance put up in my way by people who, for reasons I’ve never really understood, simply did not want me to get there.

To say that’s frustrating is a gross understatement. Battling with the Culture of No everyday just to get a step further down the line from where you were the day before takes a lot out of you. It saps your ambition and pushes your work ethic both to and often beyond its limits. It also leaves you wondering just what the hell you have to do to convince someone that you are worth their investment, whether that be professional or personal.

And I guess that’s where things started going awry, especially when it came to trying to tether my heart to someone.

In the interest of transparency, let me be so here. I fully recognize that I’ve always looked beyond my particular strata of humanity for potential lovers and I was reminded many a time that because they were out of my league, the likelihood of a relationship being cultivated into something that could span an indeterminate amount of time was on the downside of nil.

So when the opportunity presented itself to finally stop and have a chance to have that relationship with someone who somehow managed to find me attractive enough to want to be with, which was a complete rarity given how my life’s gone, both before and since, how could I have realistically been expected to turn that down when it’s what I’d been building up to the whole time?

Well…if you know me at all, then you know how it eventually went. I settled for being someone else’s trophy for close to 20 years, at the expense of the avenues of opportunities I’d had yet to explore. Worse, by the time it was over, the damage was severe enough that it destroyed any real chance for a possible relationship that kind of came out of the blue, but I found myself very much wanting.

Of course, it’s hard to not be subjective and biased about this because, after all, it’s my life and I’m looking at it through a lens which is designed to shroud the more negative parts of me that other people can identify more easily. Even so, I’d like to think that in spite of those uglier aspects of my personality, there’s enough remaining decency balancing it out to make me someone worth caring about.

That doesn’t change the fact, however, that I wanted those two things so badly that doing so seems to have guaranteed that I’m probably never going to have them.

If I’m truly guilty of anything resembling a crime at this point, it’s wanting to be happy, to which the punishment that was handed down is a life spent trying to get by without it.