You think darkness is your ally, but you merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man. By then, it was nothing but blinding.
I have a vague recollection of TV show I saw as a child where an old man visits a young boy and tells him never to let adults make him get rid of any of his toys, and that he should hold on to everything that is precious to him. The boy grows up to be hermit living in a shack full of all of his childhood memories. Then someone else comes to visit him and notices that his home is filled with first edition comic books, rare baseball cards and vintage toys. The old hermit is then able to sell his toy collection and become wealthy. That story had a big impact on me and I have always thought of myself as person living in a cruel world, hiding away everything that is precious to me where no one can find it; hiding a part of myself where no one can find it.
Looking back on what I have written here I realize that I have not been as forthright as I had wanted to be. The truth about my life is sadder and more pathetic than what I have portrayed here. I know that am a man with many gifts, and there is a lot that I might have become, but as it stands if my life were a boxing match the referee would have stopped it by now. I’ve taken a pretty good beating, and I’ve lost every round.
The truth is that, even now, if I had the opportunity to never be born, I would not hesitate take it. I’m not well suited to this world, and sometimes I sit and think about that the years of my life that would have been better untilzed if they were given to someone else. Somewhere in the world there was a kid who died too young that might have done something good with the time I’ve wasted, or at the very least he might have enjoyed it more. Too bad, that’s not how our world works.
My point here, is not to wallow in self pity, but merely to help the people that know me understand how I got to be what I am. If I seem distant or aloof, it’s not intentional. I’m doing the best I can. I have, up until this point, been haunted by a feeling of shame which makes me reticent to reveal myself, but lately I don’t seem to care about that as much as I used to. And I understand that by telling this story, I’m changing the story. I’m altering my future. And hopefully becoming the person I was meant to be.
One thing I learned about myself during my relationship was that when I was happy, I had no desire to make art. Before that I had always been an artist, I had always had a need to create, but I was also always miserable. It turns out that art, for me, was never anything more than a way to keep my demons at bay.
The relationship had exposed me. It proved that I was capable of love and of being happy, but it also brought everything that was wrong with me into the light. It was sometime after the break up that I was first realized that I was a complete failure as man. I was in my late thirties, earning no money at a dead end job, and had no future to speak of. Until that time I was an artist and a dreamer, and I had never given much thought to what it meant to be a man or even an adult for that matter. Then suddenly, every time I looked in a mirror, 38 years of complete failure were staring me in the face.
I went into a period of stress eating that ended up with me weighing 265 pounds. It got to the point where it was difficult to buy clothes off the rack anymore. So I bought a used treadmill, went on a diet and lost 85 pounds. People tend to think of me as an undisciplined person which, for the most part, is true. But when I want to get something done, it gets done. Besides that, my life has afforded me an advantage when it comes to losing weight. I’m used to going months at a time without experiencing joy or pleasure of any kind. If I have to eat the same thing everyday, even if it isn’t very good, it won’t bother me much.
I have always tried to not let the bad things that happen in my life change who I am. I have always strived to make sure that no one suffers because of my own anger or misery. I take great pride in knowing that my firing squad stands in a circle. But I must admit that after my relationship ended I became a darker person, a little crueler and more selfish. I started drinking for the first time in my life. But for the darkness and the cruelty and of course being in the best shape of my life seemed to appeal to women. I had been in shape as a younger man, but I was much shyer than I am now and often gave off the vibe of a crazed loner (mostly because I was). Then I turned 38 and suddenly women were flirting with me, and inviting me to events, and sending me suggestive text messages. I was not used to all of the attention. In fact, I wasn’t used to any attention from women. I can’t say that I’m entirely proud of the way I handled myself during that period, but this was all new to me, and flattering in a superficial sort of way. I knew that these women had no idea who or what I was. Maybe they didn’t care, but I was not about to tell them that I was a broke artist who spent the first 34 years of his life as a hermit. I have tried on more than one occasion to convince a woman that I suffer from crippling shyness, but they never believe me. They concoct an image of me as some kind of womanizer, and believe that if they don’t hear from me for a while it’s because I’m out with other women. For someone like me this is a strange and ridiculous reputation to have acquired when the truth is that, even now, I’m almost always alone.
This may seem obvious to most of you, but being alone for so many years isn’t good for you. It does bad things to your mind. It changes how you feel about yourself and affects the kind of relationships you can have.
I wanted to write about a four year relationship that began when I was 34, but this has turned out to be a lot harder than I expected. There was a lot that happened between us and I have a lot to say about what took place, but most of it isn’t relevant to the story I’m telling in this blog. And, to be honest, I’m still not comfortable talking about what happened between us. All I need to tell you is that this was the first time in my life that I was part of a couple, the first time I ever lived with a woman, or woke up next to woman. I always thought it would be difficult to go from always being alone to always being with another person, but it wasn’t. I am not a man who struggles with knowing what a woman wants or how to make a woman happy. Loving a woman was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. But things happened early in our relationship that would sabotage our future. The truth is that our relationship was dying from the moment it started. When she was gone and I woke up alone in my bed again, it didn’t feel strange at all. It felt like I had come home.
I started having trouble falling asleep when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. I think that I was able to fall asleep, but I would wake up in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep. The house we lived in would creek at night and I was always convinced that I could hear footsteps coming near me. I was sure that these were the footsteps of someone coming to kill me as I lay in bed. I would lay in my bed for hours, motionless, trying to breath quietly, and waiting for this unknown person to come and take my life. And no matter how many nights passed where I did not get murdered, I would still lay in bed each night convinced that this was finally the night he was coming for me. Sometimes when I was awake I would have to go to the bathroom, but I was so afraid to get up that I would just lay there for hours, terrified, trying not to wet my bed until my mother woke up around 6 and turned on the light in the hallway.
When I did sleep I would always dream that I was being chased by someone who wanted to kill me. Every dream I had until I was about twenty five involved some variation of me being hunted down like an animal. I think this is why I don’t quite understand the concept of nightmares, or people who complain about having nightmares. When you lay down at night, close your eyes and imagine that someone is trying to kill you, that’s just a dream. That’s what dreams are.
When you’re alone the rest of the world has subtle ways of reminding you that you’re a freak. When at a movie theater, no matter how well you enunciate that you only want one ticket, there’s a good chance you will be charged for two tickets, and then you’ll be forced to remind that cashier that you are, in fact, seeing a movie alone. When ordering fast food, no matter how clearly you answer that you want to eat your food in the restaurant, your food will most likely be packed to go. The assumption being that no one would want to be seen eating alone public.
Until I was in my mid-thirties I spent all of my birthdays alone, and every New Years, every Halloween, every Valentines day. Almost every movie I ever saw, I saw alone. I ate most of my meals alone. When I was sad, I told no one. When I was happy, I shared it with no one. If I had a job where other people were on their lunch break at the same time as me, I would often choose to eat alone. Because I hated every job I’d ever had, being alone and away from my coworkers while I ate was often the only bright spot in my day.
Over the years I’ve learned to spot a lonely person from a mile away. I can see it in their eyes, in the way they walk, in the way stand in the presence of other people. I try to avoid interacting with them whenever possible. I find their neediness and desperation off-putting and, to be honest, the mere sight of them makes me sick. They tend to carry themselves without any sense of dignity or pride and I find them grotesque to look at. I have always tried, although I’m sure that I’ve not always succeeded, not to let the loneliness diminish me. When I’m out in public, I make a conscious effort to behave in a dignified manner no matter how miserable or empty I feel. At this point in my life I’ve become a bit of a snob about loneliness and depression. If I hear someone complain about being lonely or depressed after a few months or a year, I think to myself, what a fucking pansy. You know nothing of the real terror. You need to be at least five years in to really know what being alone is about. When you look back at your life you must see nothing but loneliness behind you, and when you look forward you must see nothing but loneliness in your future. This is what it means to be desolate.
A normal persons personality is forged in the context of their social relationships. They learn to be who you are in the context of how others interact with them. But my personality was forged in solitude. I am only built for solitude. I am often ignorant of social norms and lack some basic interpersonal skills. And through the years I have developed a set of skills and coping mechanisms that allowed me to survive the emptiness. I don’t require or expect validation, moral support or affection. I had an art show last January and everyone in my family came, but if no one in my family had come, I would have felt exactly the same. This is the transformative nature to solitude. If you were alone for as long as I was, you would not become a lonelier version of yourself. You would have to become a different person altogether.
The person that I’ve become feels confined and lost in the presence of other people. I only feel free when I’m alone, because the person that I am when I’m alone is the only thing that I recognize as myself. The person I portray in public is a sad shell of a man; bland, uninteresting and, as time has proven, unlovable.
There was once a time, long ago, when I just didn’t know how to relate to other people, but now that I’ve been alone for so long, it just isn’t possible that I can relate to other people. Whoever you are, there is little chance that our experiences are alike. I will never understand how it feels to be like you, and you will never understand how it feels to be like me.
As I child I was generally well behaved. It was not in my nature to be mischievous or troublesome. I liked when people played by the rules and did the right thing. I had, from a very early age, figured out the kind of person I wanted to be and I did my best to not let my experiences throw me off this course. As a teenager I would never curse and to this day I have never given someone the finger. The first time I ever said the word damn I was in high school, reading out loud in class. I knew that word was coming up in the part of the book I would have to read and I tried to figure out a way to get out of it. I was tempted to refuse to read that part because I didn’t want to use that word, but I know that the teacher never would have believed me. I had, by that time, already developed a reputation as a delinquent, but that’s only because I generally refused to participate in class. I continued to not curse, despite being a huge Hip-Hop fan, to well into my twenties. Sometime around twenty-four I started to use a lot of curse words in my inner monologue. I then developed a nervous tick (which I still have from time to time) where my head would violently jerk to one side and I would blurt out curse words. But I generally only do this when I’m alone. The first time I ever cursed in front of another person I was in my thirties.
When you’re sad and alone it easy to get involved in things that mask the pain; that push you further away from solving your problems. And I never wanted to let that happen to me. I once read a quote from Joseph Conrad that said, “Who knows what true loneliness is - not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion.” I knew that it was important that I not be afraid to face the naked terror. I avoided anything that might become a coping mechanism or an addiction. I never drank or used drugs of any kind. The first time I tasted alcohol I was thirty seven.
I would often go through short bouts of extreme depression followed by a few days where I felt great. But for the most part I was just kind of numb all of the time. I needed the numbness to get through long days of working at jobs I hated, jobs that made me feel useless, and frustrated me with their sheer stupidity. It’s difficult to face the world when you wake up each morning knowing that there’s no chance that you will find any joy in your day. To begin each day without hope is a dark and dangerous place to be.
I had, in my early twenties, committed myself to not committing suicide but the temptation always lingered. When I drove across an overpass I would often have to fight the compulsion to steer my car over the edge. If I was on a balcony I would imagine how easy it would be to jump over the rail. “This could all be over right now,” I would tell myself. The urge would get so strong I would have to move myself away from the rail as I briefly imagined my body splattered on the ground below.
Each night, after tossing and turning for several hours, I would fall into a restless sleep around 4 or 5 in the morning. I would wake up each day with the sheets torn off the bed and my feet turned around to where my head had been when I laid down. I would roll out of bed and drag myself to whatever job I was working at the time. I was good natured and friendly at work, and I got along well with most people. But inside I could barely manage to survive through each day. I would often feel my sanity slipping away, and I would struggle to hang on. If would often tell myself that if I could just get through the day without losing my mind I will have accomplished something. That was my only goal, just one more day, one more day without going crazy. Then I would try to do whatever I needed to do to survive; mostly that just consisted of eating fast food and driving around aimlessly for hours. I thought that if I could just get through the day tomorrow might be different, tomorrow something might change, but it never did, not for many many years.
I was barely going to school at all by the time I was sixteen. When I did go I would sit in class quietly, but refused to do any work or even speak to the teacher. As a child I had friends that I played with, but as a teenager I was unable to adapt to the social aspects of high school. Everyday I spent my lunch hour alone, wandering through the hallways in a figure eight pattern, around and around until lunch was over. Eventually I stopped going to high school altogether.
I had a job at a restaurant and started taking art classes at the local junior college. I was able to interact with people and strike up casual friendships, but never was quite able to form any close relationships. I began spending all of my free time alone. I started having trouble sleeping when I was fourteen but by the time I was nineteen, my insomnia was constant problem. I rarely slept more than three or four hours a night. I would lay in bed for hours trying to fall asleep. My head would be racing and I could never slow it down enough to relax. It felt like I was like watching TV, listening to the radio and talking on the telephone all at the same time. My mind was a non-stop cacophony of color and sound screeching through my mind hour after hour, night after night. I would toss and turn and my limbs became fidgety and tense. I would scratch feverishly at my skin. It was like what they show in movies when someone is withdrawing from a drug addiction. I survived on large quantities of caffeine but wandered through each day exhausted and ready to fall asleep at any moment. I lived like this from my late teens to sometime in my early thirties.
I went to art school for a while but was never motivated to do anything in particular. I wandered from one dead-end job to another barely able to support myself. You know those machine rolled quarters you get at the bank? I made those for six years. I read gas meters for while, I filled vending machines, I took school photos, I worked in the warehouse for Lamps Plus and now defunct Robinsons-May, I was a temporary postal carrier, and I worked at a flower shop. I had lost my first job at the restaurant, because I was so frustrated with the work conditions and long hours, that I had a violent outburst where I started throwing knives and knocked all the lights down from the kitchen ceiling with a gallon of mayonnaise. I knew that i couldn’t let that happen again so I would work somewhere until I felt the anger and frustration swell up inside me again and then I’d quit and go look for a job somewhere else. I hated looking for jobs. I had most of a college education but lacked real job skills or the basic social skills to do anything that involved working with people. I would often leave my college experience off of an application just so that I could get a job at a warehouse or factory. Throughout my twenties I never knew three people well enough to put them down as a reference, so I would have to put down a family friend or just make up someone and hope no one ever called them. I always managed to find something that would pay me just enough to feed myself and keep my car running, but I could never afford to move out of my mothers house.
I spent my off hours working on my art and not much else. I was alone almost all the time. I took road trips, and went to restaurants and movies alone every weekend. I would often drive out to Hollywood Blvd. and wander up and down the street just hoping something, anything, would happen to break up the monotony. I finally met a girl who didn’t seem put off by me and we dated for the four or five weeks just before my twenty fourth birthday. This was the first time I ever kissed a girl. I remember once when she put her hand on my chest like she was going to lean in and kiss me, I was trembling so hard because I felt exposed and vulnerable. Until that time I was always afraid of having someone touch me. I would always flinch and recoil if someone moved towards me too fast or raised their hands higher than their shoulders. For the most part I still do, but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be.
A year after that brief relationship ended I had two dates with a girl who worked at Burger King, and then when I was twenty-nine I had one date with a gas station attendant from my mail route. This was the entire extent of my dating experience in my twenties. I would not have a girlfriend again until I was thirty four.
I worry about the overall tone of this blog. I do not mean to portray myself as a martyr. I am not asking for sympathy. I merely want to help people understand how I became what I am. I’m tired of pretending that I’m a regular person. I want to be able to speak honestly about myself, my life and the things I believe.
I have developed a reputation in my family as being a person who is indifferent and cold. I find this ironic, being that this is a trait that I learned from my family.
1. When I was about eight years old my brother told me that I was adopted. I didn’t know whether or not to believe him so I went to mother to ask if it was true. She told me that it was. I remember writing a paper about being adopted when I was in the fourth grade. It didn’t bother me to be adopted, it didn’t make me feel any differently about myself or my family until around five years later I learned that I was, in fact, not adopted. By that time I had come to realize that if you ask my mother a question while she’s watching one of her soap operas she will just say, “Yes, yes.” without listening to what you are saying. My mother still does this, you can see her drift away while you’re talking to her, even though she’s looking you in the eye nodding her head. I’ve stopped mid sentence and asked my mother what I was just talking about only to have her admit that she wasn’t listening to what I was saying. My mother would be the first to criticize me for what she sees as my cruel indifference, but in all my life I have never met anyone who is less interested in other people’s feelings.
2. I have spent a lot of time over the years contemplating the nature of cruelty and violence. My father believed that fighting and cruelty were ways in which people show affection for each other, and he was willing to gamble his children’s future on this belief. The truth is that what unites people is the sharing of common experiences, even traumatic experiences. This is why soldiers who serve in combat develop a close bond with the other members of their platoon. The facing of a common enemy unites people. My father and his brother were united by the fact that they survived being raised by cruel and violent father, but their fighting was an expression of anger and frustration not an expression of love for one another. I know that there are people who believe that a certain amount of fighting is normal, and it may be, but it is certainly not healthy.
I was a freshman in high school during the last year that my brother and I weren’t speaking to each other, he was a senior at the time. It was brunch time and I was in the enclosed area where food was sold when I was jumped by four older students. They grabbed me and I was able to knock one of them down before they wrestled me to the ground. I didn’t know what was going on or why this was happening. I looked up to see my brother watching me from twenty feet away and when our eyes met I watched him turn around and walk away.
I got off easy that day. All they did to me was rough me up a little and throw my in a dumpster.
My parents don’t know this story. They would be appalled to know that my brother had left me alone to be assaulted, but the fact of the matter is, that’s the way they raised us.