Perpetual dissatisfaction marked my childhood. The neighborhoods I grew up in were too sterile, too full of cement and subdivisions. There was nothing left to explore; nothing that hadn’t already been tracked, catalogued and secured by adults. I could never properly explain this feeling to my mother.
“I want to live in nature!” I would whine. I would plot how I could possibly run away and take enough reading material and Oreos to last me to adulthood, in a My Side of the Mountain scenario.
Both my parents tried to explain how lucky I was. Everyone wanted to live in America, and everyone who already lived in America wanted to live in Los Angeles. The temperate weather and two-car-garages of my parents’ childhood was The American Dream, and by God, we were living it. I should be happy I wasn’t living in the U.S.S.R. or famine-ridden Ethiopia, the grownups would tell me.
I couldn’t make anyone understand. So I pretended driveways were hillsides, that the train tracks were the perimeter of the world, where I could look out over the edge and see infinity.
It wasn’t enough.
I spent my whole life trying to break out of it, but like most prisons, this one had a sturdy lock on the door.
– – –
There were so many circumstances keeping the door barred, that when I had opportunities for escape, I didn’t recognize them for what they were.
I was sick for a long time; did I ever tell you that? As a teenager I contracted a chronic virus that held on pretty tightly until young adulthood, and still visits now and again. When I was supposed to be taking risks, enjoying freshly imparted freedom and endless opportunities, I was napping and taking lots of pills. I tumbled into a dark depression made worse by religion. I believed it was my fault. It was my fault for being sick. It was my fault I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live. If I wanted something, shouldn’t I be able to make it happen? God wanted to bless me, everyone told me, and my lack of faith was making me sick.
It took years to undo that damage. It still pulsates beneath the skin, between the gallbladder and the liver, that intuition that I am causing my own misfortunes.
With age, you learn that shit just happens. Something no one ever told my generation is that bad things happen, and it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. Or maybe someone did tell us, and we couldn’t hear it over the sound of commercial breaks between cartoons.
– – –
It has been about a month since I’ve written anything more significant than comments on student essays. My new job is long on hours, short on paychecks, and draining of internal resources. Caring for something so much when it does so little for you may be good for the soul, but it is hard on everything else.
In fact, this year has been the hardest one since getting sober. My freelance career decidedly didn’t take off. I lived in unemployment hell, wasting time applying at coffee shops and book stores once the career agencies failed to turn up even menial secretarial work. A dear friend was diagnosed with brain cancer. We moved to a smaller house. My relationships suffered. Anxiety became a daily visitor. My life got stripped down to survivalist essentials.
I’ve had to ask myself some hard questions this year. If this is all there is, if this is as good as it gets, is it enough?
I don’t know. But I’m waiting to find out.