About this time last year, I was feeling rather impulsive. I drove four hours (eight, round-trip) to see a podcast taping in Huntington, West Virginia. I made some plans to meet up with a few total strangers who were going to be there for the exact same reason, and I even went as far as meeting up at the location, a bar and grill, but I ended up sitting at the bar by myself. I saw them at a table across the room, but I couldn’t bring myself to join them. It seemed my uncharacteristic impulsiveness was still not enough to pierce my bubble of ridiculously stupid social anxiety. I texted some excuses to them, pretending I hadn’t been able to find the place. I went to the show, I laughed, I cried, I had a great time, and I left almost immediately afterwards, not even bothering to wait a few minutes to meet the hosts (of whom I’m a huge fan.)
While at this show, I purchased a tote bag, on which was emblazoned one of the shows catchphrases “PACK YOUR BAGS AND MOVE AWAY.” It was a jokey bit of repeated advice, used as a laugh from some very socially inept brothers as a catch-all for when one finds oneself in an awkward situation, usually involving an ex-girl/boyfriend. It was a matter of months before I did exactly what the bag said.
To shorten a long, long, set of stories [note- this still runs a bit long. Stick with it though, the author is building to a point which the next few paragraphs will help inform. – Ed.] I had stagnated. I loved my job, but to stay was to commit to something that, while I enjoyed and was good at, was inextricably tying me to a place that I was quickly growing complacent in. I loved (and still do) the family and friends I was surrounded by, but pieces of me were withering and atrophying as I watched them carry on with their lives, getting married, having children, starting careers, while my life remained unchanged. My love life was, quite simply put, non-extant. I was living my days as a crutch, physical or emotional, for damaged people. A great backboard for rebound feelings, because I was adept at running through the motions of empathy for a broken heart. I’d be lying if I said I was anything other than a magnet for lost souls, being a lost soul myself who still held some spark of hope that others mistook for warmth. My passion for writing, which in the previous years had seemed an unstoppable blaze, seemed to be dwindling to ashes after the death of my brother. The fire was still there, but it was becoming harder and harder to stoke with each passing day. I felt like a walking piece of unfinished business, a burden and a raincloud to everyone I passed by.
Now, a note here about depression: It isn’t ever really the same for any two people, nor do any two people deal with depression the same way. No, I was never clinically diagnosed with it. Paying out of picket without insurance to figure out the validity of my general shittiness and general malaise seems a little counter-intuitive. So absolutely I self-diagnosed what I believed to be my condition. The symptoms matched, to say the least. Over the course of months I probably spent four or five nights a week staying up until 5 in the morning drinking cheap shit rotgut whiskey googling signs of depression, all the while ignoring the irony. I spent even more time trying to find free counseling resources, which in what amounts to rural North Carolina, consist of religious counseling or crystal therapy. There was a business card in my wallet that I had gotten from my mother, from her work, after my brother died, that covered anyone in the family for a few free sessions in the case of just such a life event. By the time I threw it away, the corners were gone and the edges were frayed so much they felt like cotton. I never called them.
I’m a strong believer in therapy. I just don’t know if it would work very well for me. I love talking to strangers about my woes and vulnerabilities, unburdening myself onto people that have no idea who I am for as long as they’re willing to listen. The problem is that once I’ve unleaded my problems onto people, I lose any desire to associate with them after the fact. Once they’ve peeked into my underbelly I’d rather they not see my face ever again. It’s totally fair to say that I’m using people in this regard, and that I’ve been extremely unkind to a great number of people because of this. It’s true. And I’ve never even known how to say sorry, how to explain that it was never my intent to earn their sympathy and abandon them when they needed mine. I am sorry. It doesn’t make things right, but I am.
But I’ve beleaguered a few short points and need to regain my thread. I move. I escaped a place I thought would be my grave, both physically and mentally. I moved away, and while I gained nearly nothing in the way of self-sufficiency in the act, I did gain something that I never realized I’d been living without for most of my adult life: autonomy.
When I moved to New York City, I had the first real shock to my senses. Everyone I knew was happy for me. Where I secretly feared it was a massive failure in judgment, my brother Scott became the first of many to echo the sentiment (while in the back of an Uber, drunk and crying) that “it just makes sense.” The people in my life who I only knew a little seemed confused, and often appalled by the idea I would leave the quiet country life for what is quintessentially ‘the city.’ But those whose opinions really mattered to me, without exception, not only enthusiastically supported my choice, but held no doubt that it was the right one for me. It was a feeling unparalleled in my life, to have the unequivocal support of the people I cared about, especially for an idea I had considered to be insanely impulsive and spur of the moment.
I walked downstairs a while ago, headphones in my ears blasting Amanda Palmer’s “Smile (pictures or it didn’t happen)” and watched the New Year’s countdown tick over to 2016. A random guy up the block yelled at the top of his lungs “HAPPY NEW YEAR’S YOU PUSSIES” to nobody in particular. Up and down the street, open windows blared noisemakers and cheers. A lone firework went off about 10 blocks up, loud enough to be a gunshot. Halfway down the island, the event that millions of people every year tune their TV to was happening. I was sipping whiskey out of a mason jar and wearing flip-flops, alone in a city of millions. When I came back upstairs to my apartment, I ordered some cardboard cat scratch refills, a pair of gloves, and pajama pants on amazon, poured myself another drink, and kept writing.
So here we come to the part I’ve been meaning to get to. I haven’t changed at all since I moved here. I’m still the same person I was a year ago. I’m still struggling with my depression, with anxiety, both social and internal. I still have an unhealthy attachment to my cat. This city gives you a choice at any given time. You are welcome to be alone in a crowd, or live your life well out loud in front of everyone. Funny enough, it’s actually pretty easy to do both simultaneously, as most everyone wants to get about their day and want to have as little to do with you as possible unless you’re engaging them directly. It’s beautiful and it’s lonely and magical and a little bit sad but also hopeful. For every person who will tell you New York is a city that is rude and smelly and awful, I can tell you that for every drunk asshole or insane person on the subway, I’ve met dozens of people who are more than willing to greet you with a smile and a hello, not afraid to talk to you on the street (if you aren’t asking for money,) socialize, give you directions or recommendations, or just be friendly. It’s just like any small town I’ve lived in, it just happens to be a few thousand of them crammed all together. The traffic sucks though, if you drive.
I moved here to live with my cousin and help her out with her kids, and this is the crux of this whole thing. I’m living in the place I’ve dreamed of for years, experiencing a whole new world, and at the same time I’ve become a caretaker for children, which, on my list of priorities, has always kind of been dead last. I am not a parent, but in so many ways I’ve come to understand the job. I’ve seen the joys and sorrows, and the growing that children will foist upon you; the loss of solitude and of greed that comes along with having to ensure that others needs come before your own. It’s disturbing at first how much you influence children just by the very nature of being around them. Only at first though, because then you realize that it’s not only a duty, but a pleasure to curate the lives growing formatively around you. To make sure you’re exposing them to the best of culture, to find the things they enjoy and flesh those joys out, whether it be going to see a movie or just playing a videogame with them and showing them new things they hadn’t seen before. Or, most importantly, letting them take the lead and show you new things.
I haven’t changed at all since I’ve moved here, but oh my how I’ve grown. Even just as a byproduct of having a snapshot of the last year of these kids’ lives. Seeing how much they have grown and changed in so short a time, and every day with them has done nothing but reaffirmed my belief that this was the right choice for me, underlining what everyone was telling me from the moment I floated the idea of moving here to begin with. It’s absolutely nothing like what I thought it would be, and that’s been the most incredible part.
I don’t have any kids of my own. I don’t know that I’ll ever really want them. But I will live the rest of my life knowing that to these kids I’ve made an impact. I’ve become an inextricable part of their lives, and a strong influence. I have the benefit of being both a friend and an authority (barely, it’s hard at times to get them to grant the latter) rather than a parent. I wouldn’t call myself a role model, as at times I have to cite myself as the ‘bad example’ for life choices. Also sometimes I say a lot of swear words or tell dirty jokes and they’ll start parroting me, more to my embarrassment than their own. I can be as bad an influence as I am a good one. So whether or not I ever wanted kids, I kinda have several. And as insanely much as they have grown, I can’t help but feel like they’ve made me grow even more. I think this whole moving to New York idea was a good one after all, and I’m certain there’s going to be a lot more wonderful to come in the new year. So happy New Year’s to you all. You pussies.