The Agony of Defeat

I can’t tell you how many times I have either seen or heard this quote over the years, going all the way back to the first time it was ever uttered by Patrick Stewart. What I took away from it then, though, as a young, impressionable and far more idealistic person is the same thing I take away from it now.

It pisses me off to no end because it’s yet another reminder of how a person in a position of privilege gets to tell someone who isn’t that they have to accept that life just isn’t fair. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how talented, determined, resilient, courageous, generous, honorable or any other positive trait we pride ourselves on that you may be.

Someone else is going to come along and take the goal you are pursuing, even when you’ve done nothing at all to lose the chance to claim it for yourself.

And that, no matter how incredibly cruel and soul-crushing as it is to you…that’s just life.

Except here’s the silent caveat to this. Sure, you may not get what you want now, but at some point, that thing you have been chasing and devoting so much time and energy to acquiring, be it a job, a relationship, an object, eventually you’re finally going to do what is necessary to achieve that goal and no one will be able to take it away from you.

In a perfect world, that’s what we like to tell ourselves every time we are gutted by the harsh reality of being defeated.

I guess this is where my path deviates from everyone else’s though, because as I sit here writing this all I can think about is a theorem that no one seems to want to answer…

What if, no matter what you do, you’re never allowed to get anything you want? What the hell are you supposed to do then?

A few days ago, a friend of mine took to social media to explain how kids should refrain from pursuing an education if they can’t pay for it themselves, then went on to pontificate how their particular situation exemplified that because they were able to pay off the few loans they needed to cover expenses not paid for by their parents. They also got a job which allowed them to be economically stable and buy a first home before turning thirty.

You know, just another typical American success story in action.

Except that example omits one massively glaring fact that everyone these days loves to sling around: Privilege.

To hear most people explain it, I am supposedly the living embodiment of everything that is wrong with privilege in the world. After all, I’m a white, college-educated, cisgendered, heterosexual, adult American male. On paper, that level of innate privilege should afford me the opportunities to want for absolutely nothing in my life. I should already have the corner office in the skyscraper, the golden parachute, the sportscar and the massive bankroll, the perpetually gorgeous trophy wife, the classic Nuclear family of 2.5 kids nestled behind the white picket fence of my All-American home and the security of knowing that it doesn’t matter what I do, that privilege will ensure I don’t lose any of that.

Only guess what that privilege has actually gotten me? Anyone want to take a shot…? Bueller…?

Well I’ll tell you. Not a goddamned thing.

Why is that? Because I never had that privilege to begin with.

And I know that because if I’d had even a sliver of the privilege that a lot of people who spend their times complaining about privilege possessed, my life would the complete opposite of what it’s been for the better part of the last forty years.

Except I wasn’t born into privilege. Had that been the case, I’d have had those opportunities that would’ve opened doors to a better life handed to me.

Instead, everything I’ve ever tried to accomplish in my life has come through nothing less than the knock-down, drag-out, full-scale thermonuclear wars I’ve had to wage over and over again with the Culture of No, if for no other reason than so I can attain even just a basic standard of living.

Along the way, I made my share of mistakes and did my best to learn from them. I also took risks and did everything people told me I should do, short of prostituting myself for a chance at the opportunities I wanted. Over twenty years later, while a lot of my friends are on their first or second houses, are enjoying lush vacations and watching their kids grow up to enjoy the same privileges they were handed from their parents, I’m no closer to that point than where I started.

And all because for me, I get to sit on the side of the road and watch everyone else get what they want.

For reasons I will never understand, no matter how hard I work or how much I try to prove I’m a human being who’s worth opportunities or even love, it is a game I am inherently required to those who have all the privileges…because that’s life.

 

Life 3.0 – Hell of a Year

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.

Apologies and Promises

It’s been quite something, seeing the shockwaves ripple across social media all because of these two little words.

The majority of the friends I have left in my rather small social circle are women, as are the majority of the people I’m connected to online, which made it all the more disconcerting for me when I saw post after post after post from them all saying the same thing.

#MeToo

At first, I had two complimentary reactions as the number of hashtags mounted and scrolled across my newsfeed, those reactions being sadness and anger.

The sadness came through the reality that so many of these women had been either sexually assaulted and/or harassed. The anger kicked in not long after for what could be misconstrued as a selfish reason, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

They had to endure one, the other or both…and I did nothing to either prevent it or help them get through it.

Now before anyone thinks to drop me a comment saying I’m making this about me, take a second and recognize that it’s the knee-jerk reaction of everyone, regardless of gender to want to offer some level of both support and comfort to a person who has undergone a traumatic event.

I am no different in this capacity, especially with the degree of hyperempathy which I’ve been bestowed with, so let’s move on, shall we?

Once I got over those initial emotions, though, it didn’t take long for me to find myself neck-deep in one more.

That emotion being guilt and for good reasons.

I’d like to think I’m someone who treats everyone with a degree of respect and decency as predicated upon how I was brought up. I’m sure if you ask 1,000 men in this country how they saw themselves, they’d probably tell you the exact same thing.

But that also ignores a very stark and sobering reality that both I and every other man in this country needs to accept. That we are all complicit, to one degree or another, in perpetuating the culture which required so many women to say the same thing – #MeToo.

My role in that culture began when I was barely eight years-old, if you can believe that.

Growing up in Reagan’s 80s and the Clinton 90s, the landscape was such that boys like me were taught about sexuality and the social roles of men and women before a lot of us could even comprehend it. What we weren’t taught, however, was anything about things misogyny, consent, communication, boundaries or behavior.

In my case, it didn’t help at all that my father had taken off when I was five and my first stepfather was the epitome of the misogynistic, abusive, domineering, patriarchal, Alpha male wannabe who demanded both complete acquiescence and obedience from my mother, who was not willing to conform.

I both saw and heard how he responded to it for the five years he was in my life and that left a lasting impact on who I told myself I was going to be when I became an adult.

“I’m not going to be him,” I’d say over and over once he was finally gone. “I’m going to be a better man than he ever was.”

Little did I know at the time just how much I would become exactly like my stepdad…if not something worse.

I’ve never shied away from the fact that I was a horrible adolescent, nor can I. The single most transformative point in my life came at that point and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that had the culture not been what it was, there’s a chance I could’ve avoided it.

Like so many of my friends, though, we were inundated with example after example of how such behavior was tolerated and to a degree, even expected and accepted. Music, movies, TV, books, video games and just being around other adult males who treated women in such a fashion to codify to us that toxic masculinity was somehow, inexplicably, okay.

Editorial Note: There is a fine line between using your upbringing as either evidence or an excuse. There’s nothing I can do to change the time in which I grew up or the people I grew up around, but that in no way justifies how I conducted myself during that time, nor will I try to do so.

I didn’t get my wakeup call until I was thirteen and it should never have come to that point. But it did and I spent the rest of my adolescence trying to make up for who I’d become.

I’d completely lost sight of being the better man and I can’t tell you how many times I’d do it again to lesser degrees because of the toxic behaviors I’d latched onto. It took a long time, close to 25 years to finally reach a point where I could both identify and start to work towards ridding myself of them, but even now, I know I’m not somehow inoculated from them.

And just because I’ve managed to reach this point, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t complicit in allowing women I either know or have been witness to undergoing such treatment through the shameful acts of willful ignorance and outright cowardice, because I was simply too scared to confront another man who thought he could do whatever the hell he wanted.

Editorial Note: For the record, my reluctance to get involved in such situations stems from the fact that I was faced with a moment where my stepfather’s abuse of my mother peaked and I both could’ve and should’ve stepped in and tried to do something. But I was too scared to follow through and that is both part of my prolonged shame and also speaks of how misogynists and abusers operate, through the fear and intimidation of women and eight-year-old boys.

I hate the fact that so many women I both know and don’t know have had to speak out in such a fashion, not because I somehow think they shouldn’t, but because even ONE woman having to is too many. And I also hate the fact that so many men seem to be wringing their hands and asking what are they expected to do about it.

The answer is simple, of course. WE CHANGE. But as is always the case, we start giving ourselves every excuse in the world for why we can’t, starting with why we shouldn’t have to because of justifications and excuses X,Y and Z.

Except that will not work anymore, nor should it be allowed to. There are no acceptable justifications or excuses. We HAVE to be better men. The culture MUST change. NOTHING ELSE can be tolerated.

In order to begin that change, there first has to be a sincere measure of accountability and culpability. And for every female friend I know who may read this, all I can say, from the bottom of my heart, is that I am sorry that I failed you when I could’ve done something to help you.

I’m sorry I turned a blind eye.

I’m sorry for perpetuating what you’ve suffered, through either word or action, even if it was to the slightest degree.

I know it’s small consolation and as someone who endured sexual abuse at the hands of another male, even I cannot begin to fully empathize with how difficult it must be to try and survive in such a toxic, destructive culture.

But, I promise you, that I will not forget the profound statement you’ve made by coming forward.

I see you.

I hear you.

I believe you.

And I will stand and fight with you.

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.

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.