There was a bicycle jump along the trail in the forest behind my childhood house. One day when I was four, me and my brother and some of our friends were trying to do some tricks off of it. That was when I fell. I think I skinned my knees, so it wasn’t the most serious injury, but it still hurt. So, like any four year old, I cried, for all of ten seconds, until my brother grabbed me by the collar and threw me out of the way. He forgot my bike, so one of our friends took it and threw it after me. And then they kept on jumping while I kept crying.
I told my parents about it later, of course. They told me I ought to thank my brother for making me tougher. I didn’t want to, so they made me. And then they made me thank them for making me thank him.
Later, when I was something like twelve, we were visiting our cousins in Maryland for the holidays. I don’t think my dad liked to, since they weren’t his blood relatives, and since they were richer than we were. He always felt like he had to compete around them, so my cousins always got the biggest, most expensive gifts. My brother usually made out okay–that year he ended up getting a Super Nintendo, plus a bunch of games–and my dad couldn’t have that, so he took everyone out for movies, Chuck E Cheese’s, and pizza. I stayed at home because someone had to watch the house, or at least, that was the excuse Dad used. I think he was just trying to keep costs down. They turned off the heat when they left, because “no one’s at home anyway”.
I spent the next six or so hours shivering in the living room. I wanted to get my sleeping bag from my bedroom, but I wasn’t allowed to leave the living room, so I didn’t. I still had to stand naked facing a corner when everyone got back, though. They figured I must have left the living room at some point, after all.
I know there are other things that happened in my childhood. There are reasons why there aren’t any pictures of my birthdays, why my brother’s still got all of the trophies he earned in high school football and why mine managed to get lost somewhere when we moved. But I can’t remember many of them in detail. And a few years ago, I realized why.
The way I got through childhood without jumping in front of a bus was by blocking out the bad stuff. Not after the fact, but as bad things happened to me. I have precisely one vivid memory of this happening from when I was in seventh grade. My teacher called me up to the front of the class to yell at me for not completing a worksheet in time, and after trying to explain that I didn’t understand it, I just stood there and took it. I was there physically, but that’s all. I can’t explain what I was thinking, but I blocked out the yelling as it was happening, and any negative emotions that might have arisen from it.
I got good at blocking things out. Really good. In fact, I got so good that I did it not just when bad things were happening to me, but when things happened around me that might make me realize how different my life was. I ended up doing it at the dinner table when my parents would congratulate my brother for getting a ninety on his test when I’d just aced mine, and later in my room when my parents sent me there for not congratulating him enough.
Later, though, I realized that this… was becoming a problem. Every time something happened that wasn’t completely to my liking, I’d just block it out. Every social interaction that I bungled, every time a slice of pizza didn’t have enough cheese, I’d block it out. I realized that I couldn’t learn from my mistakes like this, because they wouldn’t eat at me and make me change, because nothing would, or could, get to me.
That’s how bad it got. I couldn’t feel bad or guilty about anything, even things that were my fault. And, one day, I realized that I couldn’t feel happy, either. About anything.
At first, I figured that I wasn’t doing things that were making me happy. So I got out of my room, for once in my life, and started to do things. Scuba dive, skydive, travel to the other side of the world on a whim, party, get laid, I tried it all. And I don’t think any of it made me happy. I don’t think I know, or even remember, what it means to be happy.
I took a week long vacation to Thailand a couple months ago. There, I did a bunch of things that would have made any normal person pretty happy, but… On the last day there, when I was eating my last pad thai out in a red light district, I was smiling–I know I was–until I realized that I was just smiling because I was trying to. I ate my noodles, stopped consciously trying to smile, and waited for the happiness to come. I thought about the bars I’d been to, the girls I’d been with, the strippers I’d watched that night, all of the drinks, the food, the colors, everything… and nothing. None of it could make me smile without trying. Nothing.
I came home. Wrote about what happened and got drunk out of my mind so that I could fall asleep. A few days later, I got an email–and no one ever sends me emails, ever. It turns out that I had submitted the story to a writing magazine, and that they liked it so much that they decided to publish it, forget that I didn’t format it right or even include a biography or anything. They said it was a remarkably realistic insight into the mind of a depressed person. So I wrote a fake bio, said that the story was inspired by a friend of mine, and two months later, it got published. In the physical magazine, as well as online.
And seeing my name out there like that… I think it made me feel something. I honestly think it did.
So that’s why I write. It’s not because it makes me happy, and it’s not because it makes other people happy for damn sure. But when I write or think about writing, I actually have something to do. I get something sort of like an emotional response that I don’t block out. And sometimes, when people say that my work is awesome… sometimes, I even feel a little less alone.
Written in June and July of 2015