“Hey Mama, look at me, I’m on my way to the promised land…”
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I assure you, the story I’m about to tell you is true- all of it. Every small victory. Every little triumph. Every lesson learned. Every mistake made. Every misdeed cast. Every bit of bullshit. Every lie. Every defeat. Every disappointment. Every heart broken. Every tear shed. Everything I’m about to share with you, it all happened. It’s all true- all of it.
Impossible for you to know the emotional toll telling you this story has taken. The long days and endless nights, restlessly searching for the right words, in the right order; hoping it makes sense; hoping to be seen. Restlessly searching for meaning; enduring moments of despair; intense bouts of frustration; fists against the wall. Desperate to be understood.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, submitted for your scrutiny and judgement, this is my story- this is my life- and I am proud to share it with you; proud to announce the release of my very first book.
“Because the Cadillac that’s sittin’ in the back, it isn’t me… I’m more at home in my Galaxie…”
Even the most ardent female snacker with endless ziploc baggies coming out of her clown car purse will have a justification for each- light granola, with healthy fats and necessary carbs. She’s going to spin class later and she doesn’t want to get light headed. Measured servings of guacamole- a hundred calorie pack, she’s sure to point out. A baggie of tortilla chips- hand counted and within her macros. God help you if she wants a glass of wine- she’ll tell you how she was “so good during the week,” and that if she wants a glass of wine at night, she’s having a glass of wineat night; if she wants a cheeseburger, she’s having a cheeseburger. She’ll feel confidence in her words despite the rationalizing- something she’s become so accustomed to that it doesn’t stand out as strange.
Perhaps there wasn’t a single moment signifying the shift in generation more precisely- down to the millisecond- than when Kurt Cobain pulled the trigger on his Remington Model 11, 20-gauge shotgun moments after writing the words “peace” and “love” as a valediction at the end of his suicide note. Whatever time there was between Cobain writing those words and Cobain pulling the trigger exists in a vacuum, like the blank spaces in-between comic book panels; a tree alone falling in the woods; stillness and nothing.
Whatever time there was between Cobain writing those words and Cobain pulling the trigger were the only moments in Cobain’s adult life where he existed without imposition. Cobain was free to be meaningless. If expanded infinitely, like the sustained keystroke of an endless soundscape, Cobain could have lived in that moment forever; outside of time and space.
Instead, Cobain was torn apart by forces beyond his control- he existed as more than the sum of his parts; he was more than a person; more than a musician; he was more than a rock star and more than an icon. Cobain was branded as historically significant, for reasons both genuine and self-serving, and even if the weight of historic significance felt considerably lighter in the twentieth century, he was constantly negotiating terms with this designation- even when alone.
“Let’s stay and starve the light a little while longer…”
Just a little longer, Blair pleaded- wide eyes, the result of a deliberate evolutionary process; puppies evoking sympathy as their only means of survival; cats as cold, distant bitches with a keen sense of human nature built in to the blood- manipulative, an inherent understanding that people chase what they can’t have. Just a little longer. Everything pushing toward survival- fleeting moments of comfort- everyone hiding from pain; refugees from trauma. Just a little longer- no one wants the night to end; cold and lonely mornings- your reflection looking more haggard by the day; bags under the eyes like sinkholes in sand.
Just a little longer. Get old enough and the goodbyes start to pile up. Perpetually watching dawn intrude on your perfect summer night- the summer between high school and college; infinite possibilities vanquished by the horrible light of the morning sun. Just a little longer- Michael Myers not letting six shots keep him down; determined to keep the party going all night long. Halloween II (1981), picking up where the first left off- more ofthe night he came home.
“If you close the door the night could last forever”
It’s okay to do nice things, Blair explained. She had made a reservation for the afternoon at a winery operating on a working beef farm. Anything pretentious would be tempered by a kind of rustic authenticity. They’ll have cows, she told me.
Although it can be managed, it’s impossible to entirely diminish feelings of hesitancy in a struggle that I can only assume is similar to the misnomer of the recovering drug addict– the same wishful thinking involved- that one can ever, successfully, erase the footprint- bust the ghost… thoughts wander; compulsions linger restlessly. There is no recovery for true addiction.
“…but will the morning headlines even say that it’s a shame?”
They’re all liars, she told me, all of them. While we had spoken a few times, only through text, in the years since things had come apart violently, I finally chipped away at Jennifer enough for a phone call. Years had passed, and maybe the resulting body image issues- collateral damage from getting off on calling her fat- had faded enough for the sound of my voice to be somewhat less nauseating. Or maybe it was the mid-August blues; five months into quarantine and just about any option seems great- a fact that I greatly benefitted from over the summer- but even if I had been excited to catch up with Jennifer formally, this wasn’t what I was expecting.
It’s the same thing every time, she told me. It’s an act, the whole thing; it isn’t real. The eye contact, the pursed lips, hands in the hair, the inflection in tone- “baby, baby…” She’ll pick up on this and mimic it back to me- same eye contact, same pursed lips: “baby, baby…”
When you’ve lived what feels like a thousand lifetimes compared to the high school sweethearts; you’ve figured out every bit of the female algorithm- missile launch codes carved into your skull like the password to skip to Mike Tyson; right to the bedroom; right to true love, scientific discovery at the price of normalcy; at the price of family.
At the price of outliving your parents- at least numerically. Without anything else- anything to provide perspective- the single man will either self-destruct in addiction or grind himself into the ground; defiance, on the road to decay; defiance in the face of genetic limitations- trying to get muscle car performance out of an economy class. Your parents were shopping on a budget- who knew how bad things would get?
“The ghosts that roam this house, like winter air right through our souls.”
You don’t have to write about my stairs, she said, and we can only be friends if you stop hurting my feelings. I didn’t have to be in the room to know what Nancy’s eyes would have looked like- desperate to hide the depth of her vulnerability- but like every other time, no matter how hard she tried, the way she looked at you betrayed her. This was what made you fall in love with her. She stopped talking to you when you posted the piece about her house- her house as a metaphor for every bit of hurt, every battle scar, every coping strategy and defense mechanism; walls and coldness- circles that needed squaring. Parts of her life to be compartmentalized; some locked-away, some delicately framed with self-talk.
There are moments in life, however brief, that an unspoken sentiment is shared by so many that it becomes an energy unto itself- the kind of energy that’s propelled nations to fight wars and outsider candidates to win elections. At the end of the decade, professional wrestling- fans, wrestlers, and promoters- had something to prove. It wasn’t enough to kindly explain to the uninitiated that despite the predetermined nature of match finishes that this shit- the battering taken on the bodies of performers- was, actually, far more real than anyone knew. To chase the respect of those who will never care, violence needed to be amplified.
The rise of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) may have been the direct result of this coalescence of energy. The convergence of two deeply felt sentiments: that a) professional wrestling was embarrassing because it was fake and the wrestling fan was an idiot for not understanding this, despite gladly acknowledging it any chance they had, and b) all those working in professional wrestling were performing on a show for children. The idea behind ECW was that they would explicitly define their show as one for adults, with a hard-R rating, and use profanity, sex, and violence as a means to achieve this end.
“Whoever thought you’d be better at turning a screw than me? I do it for my life. Fuck yeah!”
You’re just like Delicious Tacos, he told me. He was messaging me for advice. Girl problems- but, more than that too, he said. His life felt empty. He was lacking direction; depression, anxiety. There’s something about my writing that suggests I could offer intervention- a quick series of bullet points or if/then statements. Something about my writing that’s aspirational.
I’m willing to believe this. Despite my failures which I’ve grown comfortable sharing with strangers, I’m a happy and centered person. I have positive habits- and even if my addictive personality will merely cut and paste beneficial habits in place of those destructive and pursue them with the same psychotic vigor, they’re at least theoretically contributing to my overall health and well-being. I read and write regularly. I lift weights and take long walks. I meditate and enjoy stillness. I love nature. I believe in God.