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Monday, November 26, 2012

Something Pessimistic


"I hope you die cold and alone."

Whenever I was insulted, or even gently teased, this was my canned response. I'm not sure where I picked it up, but I enjoyed the pairing of hateful spite and casual dismissal. Nobody I knew feigned shock upon hearing this charming quip. After all, I was the guy who could fill the better part of an afternoon with dead baby jokes, several of which involved a microwave.

I don't use it anymore. Now, when the verbal hammer is dropped upon me, I generally reverse engineer the criticism to determine whether it has merit. Does this person know me well? Any axe to grind? Is there a valid point here that may lead me to introspection and eventual self improvement? I'd like to say that any negativity rolls off me like water off a duck's ass, but we both know that's horseshit. It sticks. I just can't bring myself to answer with bile any more. Biting sarcasm no longer floats my boat. I have one less defense mechanism in my arsenal, and now I'm reduced to manufacturing a look of pained grievance intended to elicit guilt in my attacker. This, sadly, is mostly ineffective.

You may mistake my evolved approach as a symptom of growing maturity and improving emotional health. Do not be fooled. I keep the gun in the holster not because I am wise, but because I am exhausted and demoralized.

People die cold and alone all the time, and it just isn't funny.

I've seen it.

My paternal grandmother, once a proud mother and stern educator, devolved into senility during her final few years. A clean home carefully decorated with books, paintings, and ornamental finery (that's where I got that trait) became a filthy swamp of cat hair and dirty dishes. A sharp mind became a dense fog. One son became a raging alcoholic while the other hid in her basement reading art books for forty years. Vultures took advantage of her degraded state and tricked her into handing over her home for pennies on the dollar. She was unceremoniously bundled off to a nursing home, where she received the minimum of attention from her family as she faded from life. I went to see her only once, on a Thanksgiving, and couldn't wait to leave. My sisters went more often, and were better people than I, but I believe that no patchwork of attention from any of us could've possibly filled her empty hours waiting for the end.

My maternal grandmother carries on. She visited last July, and most of our conversations consisted of her detailing the indignities of elderly life. She's tired and lonely. Everything hurts. Her trip to see her offspring was a success, not only because she got to meet her great grandson, but because she felt she needed to say goodbye to all of us. Now she can die in peace, whatever that means. She writes me the occasional letter now, but I can't read her handwriting.

My father acquired a college degree, gainful employment, a wife, four kids, and plenty of hobbies. By all appearances he was a well rounded guy with a happy, successful life. He managed to tease out the threads of self destruction, however, and elected to become a dedicated lush. During his final three years, he bounced drunkenly between homeless shelters and cheap hellholes stocked with parolees and deadbeats. Basically, he was one step above a freight train bum huddled around a trash fire. He was delivering auto parts for minimum wage when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Don't get me wrong. I realize that life is about far more than brutal endings. I'm not attempting to cheapen any of my relatives' lives. All of them had many glorious years ripe with beautiful, happy moments. I just can't ignore that for every single person alive, an ugly ending of one sort or another awaits.

Due to poor decisions and behavior on my part, my life has become a meaningless slog at a far younger age than any of theirs. I could blame the economy for my mediocre income and lack of financial stability. I could blame the educational system for my failure to advance my prospects. I could blame my parents and their twenty year long cold shoulder marathon for my aversion to romantic relationships.

There's no point to that, though. The buck has to stop somewhere. Some wise sage once said "your environment was responsible for making you this way, but you are responsible for staying this way." Ultimately, I must create my own reality. I have to change into a better person. I would like very much to fall in love, start a family, own a home, and experience all the joy life has to offer before my clock stops. That's the point. Right?

I think I'm taking baby steps in the right direction. Small goals achieved are minor miracles for me. It's time to give myself a report card. I still haven't quit smoking, despite a few aborted attempts. Failure. I haven't gone on a date in five years, and the notion fills me with trepidation. Failure. Saving money? Not yet, but paying off debt steadily. Pass, average grade. I dropped thirty pounds and have kept it off for six months now, and I know a lot more about cooking and nutrition than before. Grade: Incomplete.

Who said "You're only a failure if you never try?" That person knew. That person was talking to me. I am listening. But damn, metamorphosis is really hard.

I want life. I want to matter. I want meaning. I'm reaching for those things, though all I've grasped (so far) is empty air. As time and hope dwindle, I hope I get different results sooner rather than later.

Dying cold and alone isn't so bad, I've decided. It's dying with regret that really frightens me.

8:26 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm


November 30, 2012 11:55 PM, Blogger ... said...

Wow, I have been reading you for so long that I have grown to never know when you are writing fiction or not. That was pretty intense either way. Thanks for a great post!

December 17, 2012 8:50 AM, Blogger Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm said...

Not fiction. All me.


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