When I was a young man, running away from life was my forte. Over a ten year period, I visited almost every major city on both the continental US and in
Canada. At the slightest sign of trouble, I packed a bag and roamed. It became a habit of sorts. When life got me down, or backfired against me, I fired back with escapism and abandon. One could argue that I was driven to this reoccurring state. Due to my untreated chemical imbalance, I never really needed any help throwing it all away. Chicago, New York, Los Angeles may have been my destination but it was the journey that determined my sense of self. Without fail, as soon as I reached over the rainbow, something in me cracked, resulting in guilt, and contrition, and a Greyhound bus ride back from whence I came. I repeated this cycle over and over again, weekend after weekend, year after year. Granted, I have a flood of memories that many people will never get the chance to know for themselves. I was able to travel without limit and discover for myself the world outside my reality. In my mind, they were all a trip to bountiful. As destructive as the behaviour was at the time, in hindsight each flight was so much more. If I had been well-treated, if someone had bothered, I would not hold memories of the purple beaches at Big Sur, or scuba diving just outside Corpus Christi, or watching the Twin Towers fade in the distance on a warm July evening. Regardless of the pleasure, whenever I returned to my place in life, a greater struggle always waited for me. It’s true, you can run but you cannot hide. Life will simply wait until you’re sleeping and ghosts will always come back to haunt you. There is no refuge, no calm in the storm. The deep down, broken, choking, suffocating misery that life will hand you is not easily dismissed.
“I’ve been bound to leave you, we’ve known that for awhile
I’m sure it’s something I can’t do if I can’t leave you with a smile
I don't know how far I’ll have to go ‘til I'm sure those eyes won’t cry
And in my mind I’ve left enough to know that I can’t leave you
With a bad goodbye”
(Bad Goodbye, Clint Black w/ Wynonna 1993)
The hardest thing I have ever had to do was move past the suicide of my first partner. After six years together, I did not see it coming. I was instantly thrown into a world in which I did not belong. Day after day, I kept thinking this couldn’t be real. Somehow, I concluded, I had been tossed into some otherland from which I could not escape. My grief was intense and long-suffering. My entire life had to be placed on hold while I spent a year bawling my eyes out. I then believed I was getting exactly what I deserved. It goes without saying that the first few months were the worst. It wasn’t until a pre-existing condition forced me on pain management that the world shifted into a new direction. For four months in the summer of 1995, I sat in my parents’ basement and I gave in. The Morphine was just the ticket. Once engaged, I felt nothing but the nagging urge to shoot up some more. Between the injections and the oral prescription, I didn’t have to really do anything but fucking float. I lingered in this ether, visiting this prescribed otherland any chance I could. It was heaven floating, even if I was in hell. Once the scripts ran out and the doctors caught on, I was left to withdraw, cold turkey. In a week I was walking like Frankenstein, rigid and sore and throbbing. I have rarely known such pain. The discomfort was even greater. It was like every spot where I had injected turned to stone underneath my skin. Moving was agony. I thought it was all better than my other options. When I came out of the daze, I was standing in exactly the same place I had gathered before. Nothing had changed and I was left with the same sadness, the same misery I held all those months behind me. There was no escape. It would be weeks before I finally stopped this new bought of crying. I remember the last time I wept so. I felt like a wolf howling in the furnace room. I have never broken down that like again.
“I’ve Gotta keep on paying the rent
And I’ve gotta keep on making the bed
And I’ve gotta keep on walking around acting normal
And I’ve gotta keep on saying a prayer
And I’ve gotta keep on giving a care
And I’ve gotta keep on breathing
And I don't think I will
If there’s ever no more me and you”
(No More Me and You, Amanda Wilkinson 2005)
I am sorry but I cannot stand people who whine and complain about how hard life has been for them. Life has been difficult for me too but I don’t cry and pout because it was unfair. Everyone at some point shares their story. It’s important that we use our past to teach ourselves and others the lessons our experience presents. You don’t need to snivel, you don’t need to sob like an infant to put your point across. I have always assumed that it is a sign of weakness or emotional immaturity that causes people to break apart like a bad puzzle would. Sometimes people just can’t hold it together. I have been in this place and managed to falter in private. Initially, I fell to pieces anywhere the feelings met me. The identification of the body cut me to the core and the funeral did little to quell the chaos. Somewhere in those first few days of my nightmare, I managed to harden like cement. I felt it all inside but I refused to allow anyone to see any trace of the emotional baggage I was carrying. Over twenty years later and I am still made of stone. I have become an unfeeling rock, a monument to control and self-discipline. When someone whines or destabilizes in a public forum, I cringe. I’m not saying that people who express themselves in extreme manners or belittle themselves with public displays of rejection are lesser people than me. I’m not even saying that I view them as I would a crying toddler, hell-bent on screaming until it gets what it wants. Perhaps I am the weakling. Perhaps expressing one’s pain is far better, a testament to a different kind of strength. I really had no choice in the matter. If I had not turned myself off, I would have self-destructed. The madness left me barren but intact. In private, I was a basket case. In public, the iceman cometh. It has become my natural state of being. I am a self-taught roadblock that appears to feel nothing at all. It all lies just beneath the surface. I would argue that I experience far more now, in my walled up state, than I ever did in the land of the feeling. I just shut it up in a much more pretty manner than the whiners do.
“And even though our love is doomed
And even though we’re all messed up
You're the only thing worth fighting for
You're the only thing worth dying for
Even though our love is doomed”
(Even Though Our Love is Doomed, Garbage 2016)
Sometimes, it is a better idea to walk away then stand and face the music. I am not cynical about music but I digress. Sometimes, we don’t have a choice, there is no other option than to tuck our tail and run as fast as we can to safety. It’s never easy, letting go. Moving on with one’s life can be, at times, a greater struggle than remaining to fight another day. It can be quite difficult, the process I mean. There is not one goodbye I have no regrets about. There is no way I would be the man I am without some sense of futility and wasted time. Each life touches another and we are changed in increments. For the few months directly after the funeral, long before my arms became an injection site, I struggled to maintain any semblance of the life I knew at the time. I suppose, in a direct way, it was my own fault for expecting anything more of people. As I battled my grief, one by one the friendships I had maintained for years began to drop off like flies. It was like the burial had sealed my doom as well. Almost every single person I had a relationship with suddenly decided that enough was enough. Not one had the courage to say goodbye. Yes, I had lied to them for years regarding my sexual orientation. Yes, I came out to them all in a fury, rushed by circumstance and the longing for recognition. While I understand their reservations, their withdrawal only added to the chaos. It was as if they did little to consider me. Perhaps it was the death of my partner or my suicide attempt a week later. Perhaps it was the complexities of the situation, in a sense each one abandoned what they viewed as a sinking ship. Some just pulled off the band-aid, some rubbed salt into the wounds. As the morphine became a thing of the past, I recognized they had all used the opportunity to vamoose. It was at this point that I decided the best thing to do. I gave up on every single one of them. I could have chased them all down and tried to force myself back but I realized anything resembling what once was would now be artificial. Over the last 23 years, I have had little to do with anyone from that time in my life. It just wasn’t worth it. I’ve seen glimpses of some throughout that time. The bleakness of each failure only serves to remind me that I made it through with little to no help from even one them. I have come to the conclusion that I saved myself a lot of time and energy. Not one of them was deserving.
“If I’m not over you by the time I get to
There was a time when I’d do anything for ya
But this time baby, I won’t turn around”
(Georgia, Carolyn Dawn Johnson 2000)
If there is one thing I have learned over all my years of paying attention, it is not to fear my mistakes. The truth is, there really are no mistakes, just platforms for understanding and learning and survival. Treasure lies within our scars. There are no bad goodbyes. Everything we know in life contributes to our inventory. It is what you take from each experience that will determine whether you simply survive or whether you flourish. You may need to learn to make lemonade. You may need to learn when enough is enough. Sometimes we don’t need to walk away, we need to run away. More often than not, we don’t even need that final goodbye to know things are over. Years later, you might just get to see that those things which once governed you were nothing but a waste, useless moments that in the end meant nothing at all. Every February 12th, I stand looking at the headstone, remembering our time together. He has been gone for decades but I still have yet to really say goodbye. I’m not sure that I ever will, if the truth be told. I am never really alone there. I always flash back to the funeral service, to the coffin and to the dozens of people who stood with me in the final goodbye. Ashes to ashes and all that jazz. I believed them all when they made their promises. Their tears more performance art than any real sorrow. Only a handful of those mourners remain in my life and my life is completely different these days. I do not look the same and I do not feel the same. I fear my late friend would not even know me if our paths cross again someday. If there is something to learn from all this pain and sadness, I can, we can, survive anything if given half the chance. I don’t run away anymore, looking for a place to hide. I don’t escape anymore, there are no pinpricks in my life (speaking literally of course). I am set in stone, walled in for real. I live in a state of mind rather than a state of impulse. I do not escape as a knee-jerk reaction. I have come to realize that all those missing people are a blessing rather than some curse. I never really had to run away to realize not one of them held any value except in their absence.