After my mom died and shortly before Dad went, too, he gave me a sheaf of old papers tightly bound together with lengths of mottled yellow masking tape clearly meant to preserve the collection and also somehow indicate that it had been kept private, that the scribblings had not been read; but, of course, if that were true, how would they have known not to throw them away? They had most likely found the papers among the things I left behind in the rush to go off to college in the big city, and had kept them for decades through at least two moves to new houses.
It was sort of a journal. Written in bits and pieces, on scraps of ruled paper and partly in a hard-bound Work Ed blank book, in an inconsistent scrawl that never matured into penmanship. On those pages, I was thirteen, maybe fourteen. Struggling with problems that viewed today through the long lens of forty-plus years appear appallingly petty. I shuddered, cringed even, when I read the things I wrote about with such aching passion. What came across most clearly from the past, however, was my certainty, my confidence that things would get better. I had my whole life planned out: Economics, Law, public service. Find a girl, settle down. I was both Father and Son in the Cat Stevens song—all at once charging into the future and calm in the knowledge that in my senescence I would be happy.
What happened? It’s like I was faced with a choice of routes: take the service road, try the old south road or get onto the expressway. I tried to look as far ahead as possible, chose SLEX, and found myself in standstill traffic for hours and hours and hours. What happened?? Life happened. Shit happened. Nothing really happened. I just sat through hours and hours and days and days and years and years and watched the dreams die.
If I could blame someone else for everything, I might be happier; but the choices were all and always mine, like the chocolate crinkle cookies I enjoyed until the empty calories turned up later as unwanted pounds. Maybe the consequences were 90% unintended, largely unforeseen, but the responsibility was ultimately 100% mine alone. You cannot aspire to be self-made, then attribute your failures to not getting the breaks. All I can do is scream, long and loud, inside my head.
To some the D-word might only refer to a sagging in the road, a dipping below sea level where water collects temporarily and slows one down. To others, a sustained long-term downturn in economic activity. It can be tropical or clinical. It’s really a sinkhole in the soul with no visible bottom, a hopelessly dark abyss inhabited inexplicably only by shadows. An inescapable, crushing cosmic black hole. I wish I could simply tell myself to snap out of it, shake it off, focus on going from day to day and find fulfillment in other insignificant things. For every unconvincing angel my own mind can conjure, however, a swarm of trash-talking motorcycle-riding demons come at me unbidden from all directions . . .
I have started to keep a journal again. The clarity and optimism are gone. But regularly forcing myself to take note of nice things and good days has helped me identify the thread that runs through them: the kindness of others. I think if I were completely left to my own devices, I’d just be another casualty too easily written off to the ironic loneliness of the social media age. But we are not alone. And lifelines get thrown to us by people who may not even know what they’ve done—
an invitation to have “drinks without drama”
a commitment to get me as Ninong in three to four years
a call from someone with bigger problems and a request I can actually help with
a one-liner about feeling the same way
a statement that they really want to work with me
a comment, though surprising, that I was a good boss
a fun game with fellow “athletes”
a reunion with people whom I knew and who knew me way back when
a declaration of support no matter what
a Long Lunch
Friends and family, thanks.