You know how you can be looking right at something, and not realize exactly what it is you are observing, until someone else with fresh eyes comes along, and pretty much spells it out for you? Well, that is kinda where my life has been for some time now. And last night, someone came along who could finally tell me exactly at what I had been looking at all this time.
“Look, dude. Things around here have changed. Sometimes, the only way to keep going is to make a left turn,” advises Kyle Broflovski to his friend, Stan Marsh, in Wednesday night’s mid-season opener to Cartoon Network’s long running animated series, South Park. Little did I realize last spring when the first part of this two episode story arc aired, or even last night, as I sat enjoying the second part to the story, that South Park‘s creators had written an adventure so amazingly close in theme to what was going on in my life. It would not be until a few moments later in the episode that it would all make sense to me.
You see Stan’s parents, Randy and Susan, were finally getting divorced, and the change was wreaking havoc on Stan’s life. For both episodes of the arc, everything in the world that Kyle used to derive great joy from, for Stan literally took on the appearance and characteristics of shit. It’s an audio and visual metaphor, but the point is this is a pretty good approximation of what the world feels like when your life has fallen apart – everything is shit. Ultimately, Stan comes to the realization that life changes, and you have to “take a left turn”, embracing change, to move forward. By the point of his epiphany, he is ready, and even eager to move on . . . only to have the world come crashing in returning itself to status quo, trapping poor Stan in a lifeless purgatory devoid of growth and purpose. Were I not convinced by this point the episode and my story had not wound up in similar places, then the final scene of Stan sipping from a bottle of Jameson whiskey to cope with his new life in purgatory, sealed the deal.
My story is not dissimilar to Stan’s. In the early months of 2005, I was greeted with the tragic news that my mother had suffered a stroke . . . this news was followed two weeks later by the news that my father had suffered a bad cardiac event, a triple aorta rupture. My folks were in a bad way: my dad in a coma, and my mother not in a position to adequately deal with it on her own. When I returned to the city of my birth, it was under the impression that I was returning to bury at least one parent, and help the other hold it all together. Five months later, my father would emerge from his coma, paralyzed from the the neck down and suffering from other complications not brought on by his condition, but instead brought on by the incompetence of what passes for medical professionals in this state. He would also wake with most of his memory gone, something more of a side effect of the coma, than anything else. Of course my father waking from his long nap did not occur before doctors informed my mother, on Mothers Day of all days, that they had given up on him, and she needed to give them permission to pull the plug.
Looking back on it now, all that seems like so long ago – like it happened to another person, even. But that was then. Two years of physical therapy and a few surgeries later, saw both my parents on the mend. Mom, who exhibits an amazing amount of strength, I am sure she was not aware of, was mostly back up to full speed – mostly. And dad, had regained use of his arms and upper body, along with much of his memory. To this day, he is still paralyzed from the waste down, and can barely move his bowels without assistance, but we have adapted. And it is at this point, six years later, that the story seems like a triumph; we came together when we needed each other most, and together we prevailed – the cost of course is that I completely gave up my life, everything I had spent the previous decade and a half working towards, to help gain this victory.
I gave up an awesome career in arguably one of the most exciting and important emerging tech industries, which I loved. I gave up really great pay, the most awesome friends a person could ask for, travel all over world, my home, my city where I was like a king – I even gave up the girl. But that is what family does, isn’t it? When in a pinch, we come through for each other. We give up everything for each other, if it should come to that. And I did that, I did the responsible bit. And at first it was good. There was purpose there. More than purpose even – something larger than myself. But I feel so incredibly dead inside now. If you are familiar with Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, my life in many respects is a lot like the first two stanzas:
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes
Listened as the crowd would sing
Now the old king is dead long live the king
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
That high, that ability to shape the world around me to my own liking on a whim almost, that used to be my life. And not being that person any longer, has been the worst experience of my life. And it’s not like I’m trying to get all that back; I don’t think it is possible to get any of it back. At least not the way it was. It’s like Gertrude Stein said, “There isn’t any there, there.” And to be honest, just like Stan Marsh’s epiphany, I don’t really want it all back the way it was. However, I no longer want, never wanted actually, what I have now. What I have now is killing me from the inside. But at the same time, I don’t want what I had before, the way it was either. I want something new. I want something better. I want something that takes the best of what was, the best of what is, and the best of what could be.
If I could get the girl back however, I would definitely make her a priority. But sometimes in the dark recesses of my mind, I worry about her. Not in the usual way. Even though we are still friends, and we still keep in touch, it’s just that we have been apart for so long. People grow. And maybe it’s not the woman now, so much as the concept of the woman that I cling to. She can’t possibly be the person she was when we were last together. I know I am not the same person, it would be irresponsible to expect her to have remained static in her own growth. I like the girl. Scratch that, I love the woman. I would be upset with myself it if that emotion was directed more at the concept of her, than toward her. That would be unfair . . . to both of us; provided she was still even interested in me in the first place.
Over the past few years, I have grown into relationships with people who once needed me – they no longer do, but they do not, or choose not to realize that. It’s like Stan Marsh’s purgatory. A status quo has been established, one in which I am not needed, don’t want to be needed any longer, no longer have any purpose, yet one where my jailers refuse to let me go. I’ve never been married before, but I imagine this has turned into something akin to being married, with children, to the wrong person. It’s a soul sucking prison that breeds nothing but resentment and contempt. And the only thing worse than resenting the people around you, is resenting your own existence. But how can you do anything but, if you do not live true to yourself? And that’s the biggest sacrifice I made for my family. It wasn’t the job, it wasn’t the money. Those things were little more than enablers for me to be me; a me without compromise. And I was brilliant at it. The greatest sacrifice I made, was myself.
“I don’t want for everything to go back to the way it was . . . sometimes the only way to go forward, is to take a big left turn,” Stan Marsh proclaims in his epiphany during the dénouement of the South Park episode. “I’ve been resisting it, but I’m ready now,” continues Stan, “this change is going to bring new things for all of us . . . . maybe it won’t be like before, but at least it will all be new. And that’s what’s going to make it so that I can keep going. For the first time in a long time, I’m really excited.” And then the other shoe fell on the poor guy. And that is where I stand. Of course the other shoe fell on me sometime ago, before I realized what was happening, or even what I was truly about. Until yesterday, I’ve not understood that, and the people around me most certainly are resisting it. But I know now, and I’m ready. And finally knowing what it is that I have been looking at so intently for the past year or so, is like being released from a great weight holding me down. It reminds me of that scene with Neo and the Oracle in the park, in The Matrix Reloaded. My decision had already been made, I just did not understand that, or that there was a decision at all, because I could not see past it. And this lack of understanding, has been the source of the ‘miasma’ that has clouded my life, my emotions, my soul, for some time now. The world looked like shit, not because it is shit (much of it really has turned to shit, hasn’t it). But because I did not understand my chosen trajectory in it.
But I’m ready now. Time to go make that left turn . . .