Freefall

I walked into work last Friday when I was pulled aside and told that the temp position I’d held since the day I walked in the door back in January had been shut down, and I wouldn’t know if I have a chance to finally get a permanent position for another three weeks.

Being less than thrilled about the prospect but also being unable to do anything that changed it, I decided to get out of Dodge for a while and enjoy the last real summer weather back up at one of my favorite places in all the world, Lake Champlain.

I’ve been here for the past week and after my initial frustrations over the fact that the city’s powers-that-be do not understand the concept of overnight parking, I’ve been taking in as much R&R as I could.

The rest side of that equation has been helped by the discovery of a hostel just a few blocks from the shoreline, that had beds for about $20 a night, which is hard to say no to, especially when you haven’t slept in one for close to six months.

The relaxation side, for the most part, has come every morning when I climb back into my jeep with my camera and some provisions and then head off exploring whatever direction pulls hardest on my emotional compass. I started with the northern side of the lake, since I was most familiar with it from previous trips and then yesterday, I turned south to see what I could find along the way.

About twenty-five miles down, the road leads you into New York across the Crown Point bridge and on the nearby bank, sits this rather majestic piece of architecture, the Champlain Lighthouse.

Until yesterday, I had no idea that such a place existed but as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to pull over and check it out.

I hung out here for about a half-hour and as picturesque as the landscape was on the ground, I figured it could only be better from the top of the lighthouse. So I marched up the extremely narrow and winding staircase and then an even steeper ladder to step out onto the upper terrace…

…and no less than ten seconds later, I realized I had a serious problem.

I have never been afraid of heights. Ever.

To the contrary, I’d always loved being up in tall buildings or airplanes and looked forward to the views they offered. Considering my childhood fascination with Superman and his ability to fly, I suppose it was only natural that part me wished I’d wake up one morning and suddenly be able to take off into the air.

It’s one thing to wish for it, though. It’s another matter entirely when you are up in a high place and your subconscious mind openly demands that you try it.

And that’s what happened the instant I stepped out onto the terrace.

My brain demanded that I launch myself over the low granite railing to the concrete 55 feet below. So strong was this impulse, in fact, that I couldn’t even touch the stone in front of me. I had to squat on the terrace and hope it would go away, but it didn’t.

I was up there for less than a minute and didn’t get to take a single photo. Instead, I went back to the ladder and went down the stairs as fast as my feet could get me there.

To be absolutely clearI have no idea at all why that episode happened.

I hadn’t been having a bad day, nor was I in any sort of a bad mood. To the contrary, I’d gotten a good night’s sleep and had enjoyed the drive down. It was a hot, gorgeous morning and there was no reason for me to be depressed or upset enough to want to do anything other than take every advantage to enjoy it as best I could.

I was also very aware that I’m not Superman and that I can’t fly. Sitting there on the terrace, trying to calm down, I told myself over and over that if I did go over the side, one of two things was going to happen. Either it was going to kill me, or it was going to mess me up enough that I’d wished it had instead. Common sense told me that and I knew that as soon as my anxiety passed and I calmed down, my subconscious would finally let up.

But even touching the railing to stand back up was terrifying because I could genuinely feel the muscles in my arm pulling on the stone in such a way that would almost guarantee that I went over the side. That had never happened in my life and I know this might not make much sense.

Hell, even I don’t understand it and it’s my mind we’re talking about here.

And I guess this is the best illustration of what it’s like to live with severe chronic mental illness, that I can offer.

Even on a good day where nothing else is bothering you, one small and seemingly inconsequential thing can put you in a situation that you’d never expected to find yourself in.

I’m hoping this goes away soon, but in all honesty, living in a country where health care is considered a luxury item and that mental illness is a myth or ‘fake news’, I’m also hoping things don’t get worse before they get better.

There’s still a lot of views from a lot of really high places that I want to take pictures of.

Off Script

I was on my way home from work last night, standing on the subway platform at South Station when down at the end of it, a scene straight out of reality TV was taking place between two young African-American women.

I have no absolutely idea what they were arguing, cursing and shouting at each other about, but I do know it was at a decibel level that not only everyone standing there waiting for the train could hear it, but I suspect people at street level might have caught wind of it as well.

At one point, the woman who was clearly the aggressor in the fracas, reared around on all of us and demanded to know ‘What are you lookin’ at?!!’ to which, the snarky bastard in me wanted to respond with something akin to ‘Just watching another immature drama junkie getting their fix.’

If there’s one thing I can genuinely say I have not missed at all in the past few years of monastic, misanthropic life which I’ve grown accustomed to, it is dealing with seemingly endless amount of drama.

Now, before you sharpen your fingernails and start pointing them at me in consternation, I fully recognize that my admission of that comes with a more than obvious degree of hypocrisy, given how tumultuous my life has been since about 2010.

Make no mistake, there have been stretches of time where I’ve created drama storms big enough to make the hurricanes currently pounding the southern U.S. look like five-minute sprinkles.

But here’s the kicker. Once I got out on my own and away from a lot of both the people and the circumstances which generated a whole lot of that drama, the more I realized how I both fed off it and helped sustain it through my behavior and attitude.

And if being alone and untethered from people and their remarkable propensity to spin drama out of thin air, especially nowadays when we are so hypercritical and hypercombative in our social discourse, has taught me anything, it’s this….

I have no appetite whatsoever for drama anymore. None.

Now, along with that comes the recognition that as much as I look to avoid it nowadays, there is the unpleasant reality that like it or not, life is drama and as such, it cannot always be avoided. But in that recognition, there also comes the acknowledgement that there are some dramas which have to be addressed.

Finding a new job or a place to live or saving money vs. paying bills, for example. Those are universal dramas that we all have to deal with and sometimes they can become emotionally taxing enough that keeping them tight-lipped doesn’t help anymore.

So what do we do? We vent our frustrations in the hope of getting positive reinforcements from those people who we are emotionally connected to, be it a parent, sibling, friend, significant other, etc. It’s that release of emotional pressure that allows us to emerge with a clearer head and a bit of reassurance that whatever problem is keeping us from achieving goal X is not insurmountable.

We all do this, myself included, and I suspect that if you ask 100 therapists or psychologists about the logic of using this as a coping mechanism, most will reply it’s very much a healthy, normal and human thing to do.

BUT, there is a big difference between something like this and using our emotional turmoil as a means of drawing in other people around us in a more malevolent fashion through our growing dependency on social media, safe spaces and the epidemic of -isms we love to carpet-bomb each other with, and none of us are really immune from that either.

Unfortunately, the only way I’ve found to really combat this is to step as far away from it as possible, and that only came about after a good 30 years of being smack in the eye of my own drama storm.

As a kid, I wasn’t good at dealing with drama and it took a long time to figure out that my own dependency on it was in response to feeling both ignored and unaccepted by pretty much everyone around me except my small circle of friends. That degree of isolation inevitably leads to wanting to be the center of attention for someone, anyone.

And if you have any real measure of empathy, it also makes you susceptible to being pulled into the black hole of other people’s drama as it provides both a mutual degree of recognition and it creates an immediate feedback loop which allows the storm to keep churning away.

It wasn’t until I got much older that I finally began to see that in most of those cases, those people really weren’t interested in getting their drama to go away. Sure, they’d talk about it and they’d promise me and everyone else who’d lend them an ear that they were finally going to do something about it. But sure enough, it wouldn’t take long before they were right back where they started.

Even now, I still have stretches of time where my own drama storm tries to reconstitute itself by bringing up a lot of things I either don’t want to remember or I don’t want to deal with. I don’t know if there’s a definitive way to make those times go away short of a lobotomy or descending into some narcotic-fueled haze, but I’d like to think that I’ve gotten at least a little better at reading the signs of when the clouds are starting to build up.

But in order to get to that point, it’s taken me over six years of being pretty much detached from people and essentially detoxxing from all their drama so I can deal with my own. Along the way, I’ve lost some friends and loved ones because we clashed over why their particular drama had to be recognized and accepted…

Editorial Note: I know this will likely get me knocked off a Christmas card list or four, but it doesn’t make it any less valid. You cannot make someone bend to your particular drama. It’s not how it works and the more you force it, the higher the likelihood that you will break that relationship and the person on the other side will realize they don’t need this in their lives. And you then get to watch them walk away…usually chucking whatever arbitrary and unfounded -isms in their direction as they exit your life.

Once that relationship is over, by the way, good luck trying to put it back together because odds are, that person will remember just how much unnecessary drama you put them through to the point that they likely cannot differentiate who you were then from who you might be now.

I had to learn that one the hard way over the past year as I tried rebuilding what was arguably the most important relationship I’d had during the time where my personal drama had become an all-devouring black hole.

There are times in everyone’s life where it feels like we’re at the whim of some overworked and overwrought Hollywood screenwriter. Where we either wake up in the morning or go to bed at night wondering, How the hell did I get here?’

I used to think that if I tried hard enough, I could help people flip their particular script so it offered a better ending, in exchange for flipping my own.

Now, I find that the easiest way for me to get from one day to the next is to just throw the script out entirely and just try to improv it the best I can.

Sacrifices

I was sitting on the subway, heading out of work as the clock rolled over midnight, and this was nice enough to pop up on my phone.

That’s not to say it somehow caught me by surprise. To the contrary, my anniversary is something I tend to see coming a mile away to the point that I suspect my friends and those connected to me are beyond tired of hearing me talk about it.

BUT…talk about it I will, because I’ve found myself thinking a lot about a word that seems to be both forgotten and marginalized in our current hyperbolic cacophony of politics and the ongoing battle for moral and societal superiority.

Pretty much everyday I see someone pontificating about the difference between rights and privileges. Usually it comes as they try to justify and rationalize how they and those of their particular ilk alone are somehow entitled to the former and can dictate who is allowed access to the latter.

Something that has gotten completely lost in the argument, though, is the notion of sacrifice.

No one tends to really think about what you have to give up when you make the decision to marry someone and for good reason. You’re too busy thinking about the possibilities of what positive things will hopefully come out of it. The idea being that those things will come to outweigh the possibilities which you gave up in order to commit the rest of your life to this singular relationship.

And if you’re lucky, it does. The however long you spend with your spouse ends up giving you everything you could both want and need in terms of physical, emotional, economic and social fulfillment and that is a wonderful thing to ponder when you’re old enough to reflect on it as the inevitability of death comes knocking at your door.

It also makes whatever sacrifices you made in order to reach that point completely worth it when looked at through the 20/20 prism of hindsight.

But we’re not all so lucky, sad to say. And sometimes, we make those sacrifices for entirely the wrong reasons.

After I got divorced six years ago, it didn’t take long for me to recognize all the red flags in my relationship with my ex-wife that ultimately doomed us. To be fair, those flags do not exclusively belong to one of us alone either, but the biggest ones that I’ve come to accept were the realization that I was expected to marry her because it was what she wanted and I only married her because I felt I had an obligation to meet that expectation.

It wasn’t because I loved her enough to want to marry her, which I know is going to paint me, rightly or not, as a stone-cold bastard, but to do so also neglects the context of both who I was and what my life was at the time.

I was 24 when we got married and I’d just spent five years going through a legitimate hell that charted the course for the rest of my life. I’d survived prison, homelessness, abandonment, family dysfunction, discrimination and complete social ostracization.

I hadn’t been to college, nor had I tried setting out on the career I’d hoped to attain. I had no real idea of what I was going to do, or even what I genuinely could do, based on the very small box I’d been confined to by the powers-that-be.

The only good things in my life that I had at the time were the tiny group of friends I managed to hold onto and this woman who kept telling me that she loved me enough to want to spend the rest of her life with me, even though I told her I don’t know how many times that it was never likely going to get easier.

What gets lost in this also was the reality that we possessed two completely different perspectives on what marriage was. For her, she’d been able to watch her parents stay together for decades and build the prototypical All-American family and having been around them for half my life, even I’ll admit they made it look really easy at times.

Whereas I had seen my parents split when I was five, my mother remarry and divorce again when I was 10, and while her third marriage has managed to last 20-odd years, she somehow rationalized that it had to be done without my knowing about it. My father took off after the divorce, but he never remarried or even pursued another relationship that I know of and my brother’s marriage ultimately disintegrated not long before mine did, though I was kept in the dark on that as well, for reasons which defy common sense.

So we were on polar opposites of the spectrum and yet, because I had gone through so much shit over the six years we’d been together at that point, I’d allowed myself to fall prey to two things which eventually undercut a lot of relationships – codependency and mental illness.

I remember being so desperate for even just a fleeting sense of anything close to normality that if it meant capitulating to what my ex wanted and marrying her, even though it would cost me opportunities to pursue goals I’d set for myself before we’d ever met, then that was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

So I did. We both did and for just under ten years, we made it work in our own weird way. What ultimately did us in was a combination of things that neither of us could’ve predicted, anticipated or prepared for when we stood in that church in Portland and put rings on our fingers and made those promises to each other.

Now at this point, I guess the logical question is What about her and what she gave up to be with you for that long?

It’s a fair question to ask, but the somewhat unpleasant and honest answer is very little.

When my ex decided to end our marriage, her family was right there to prop her up as they always did, as was the man she’d left me for. They’re married now and she’s going to give him a son of their own sometime in the next few weeks to go along with our son. And as she said on the day I left Portland for the last time, she’s happier with the life she has now than she ever was with me.

As for me…? I guess it depends on your point of view.

Yes, I have the career I’d wanted to pursue, but I’m looking for the fastest way out of it that I can find because it’s nowhere near what I thought it was going to be like when I started. Yes, I’ve finally managed to come back home, but what I was hoping to find when I decided to make that long drive doesn’t seem to be here. And Yes, I had a chance after the dust settled from the divorce to maybe find love and a possible new relationship with someone else, but that didn’t happen and now, even though we’re separated by about 20 miles, we couldn’t be any further apart if you put one of us on the Moon.

So now, as I sit here writing this, I genuinely don’t know what I’m supposed to do because I gave up so much of myself along the way that most of the time I feel emotionally empty.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that if I can find someone new that can fill that hole, then it will start to figure itself out. Only I don’t want to because most of the time I don’t feel like I have anything left to offer them.

I’m a middle-aged divorcee just trying to keep his head above water from one day to the next. That’s not all that much of an attractive prospect in any generation, but most definitely not now and it’s hard for me to not think about what anyone would have to give up to be with someone who has an unintentional habit of destroying anything good that comes into my proximity.

Call me crazy, but if I was someone looking at me and what I’d have to maybe give up for the sake of a relationship, that’s not a sacrifice I’d be willing to make.