Saturday, 1 December 2012

Conversation With My 18 Year Old Self Part 1

Note:  I intended this to run a couple of weeks ago, when it was actually my birthday.  Instead I wrote this post and wrote it and wrote it with no end in sight.  Sometimes a thought just takes off and mutates and forms a life of its own and I find is it’s just best to let it run its course.  This is such a post.  I’m still working on it, but I it cut off here and call this Part 1.  I hope you like it.

I just turned 36.

No, I don’t make a big deal about my birthday.

No, I’m not fishing for a ‘happy birthday’.  I genuinely do not make a big deal out of my birthday, even when I was a kid.  I never had a birthday party.  It didn’t really bother me that I didn’t.  When I turned 11, my parents forgot my birthday.  For real.  It hurt, but not because it was necessarily my birthday.  It just hurt that they forgot something that had to do with me.  But the birthday thing?  As far as I’m concerned, it’s just another day.  With cake after supper.  And after I got married, I cooked my own birthday supper and did my own birthday dishes.  That was equal parts sad and amusing.

But this birthday is a little significant, as exactly half my lifetime ago that I turned 18, and officially entered adulthood.  A lot of people fantasize about going back to the past and having a conversation with their 18 year old selves and I am no different.  Truth be told, I have a hard time picturing my 18 year old self.  I can barely remember him.  Bits and pieces mostly, and the most general feeling of being lost and lonely.  Not surprising as I had been living in a different city almost a 1000 miles away since a few months previous.  I had been staying with my best friend’s brother and his crazy girlfriend crammed into a small two bedroom apartment.  In two weeks’ time, I’d show up to my dishwashing job to find the doors locked and a bailiff’s seizure notice on the door, and then I’d be working in a sheet metal factory on the midnight shift.  It was an awful job, but it paid decently, at least for an 18 year old kid.  If my life had a soundtrack, The Boxer would definitely be the lead single.

When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers

Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know

I imagine we’d meet in the bar we (‘we’ being myself, my roommates and the couple of friends I’d managed to make in the three months I’d been there) frequented that was a couple of blocks away from our apartment (for God’s sake, drink a better beer!).  You were probably tired – I remember you being so tired for a young kid of 18.  You were working so much and you really didn’t know anyone yet except for your roommates and a couple of guys you worked with who you hung out once in a while.  You spent your free time just walking the streets, getting to know a strange city, with a mumbling monologue in your head that was a cross between Jack Kerouac and Travis Bickle, smoking yourself stupid and starting to imbibe in drugs a wee bit more than recreationally.

I sit down across from my 18 year old self, coughing at the never-ending cigarette smoke wafting from him. 

36:  Hey, see this?  I hold up my right hand.  My pinkie finger slants off to the right away from the other fingers.  I cannot straighten it so it touches the other ones.  A long time ago, I beat the shit out of my dad so badly he wound up in the hospital for a few days.  This is why I’m here, and not still at home.  I damaged my hand – to what degree I never found out, because I never got it looked at.  But my right hand will never be the same again.  I can use it okay, but it aches terribly on cold days.  Yup.  It’s screwed.

18: Draws from his cigarette.  He likes to think he’s got a touch of James Dean about him, but he really doesn’t.  He’s a kid barely out of short pants with moderately bad acne, stilted, awkward movements, a nervous laugh and reeking of self-doubt.   Damn.  Still?  He looks at his own right hand.  It throbs slightly.

36:  So?  Anything you’d like to ask me?  I’m sure you do.

18:  Am I ever going to get another girlfriend?

36:  Yes.  Very soon, you’ll fall head over heels in love with a girl.  You’ll say goofy, lovey-dovey shit that you thought you’d never say.  You’ll lie in bed together after hours of hot sex with her head on your chest and you’ll feel like you’re the king of the world.  Content and peaceful.

18:  Is she cute? 

36:  She’s gorgeous.  Absolutely stunning.

18:  Wow… how long do we go out?  Are you still with her?

36:  You guys dated for a little over 3 months

18:  That’s it?  What happened?

36:  You wanna know?

18:  Yep.

36:  Quietly.  She fucked two guys at a party so she could share some of their crack. 

18:  Oh… shit… really?

36:  She felt bad enough about it to confess to you, before you found out.  Trust me, that’s something at least.  She had an addiction, and addiction leads people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.  She was still responsible for her actions, though.  Let’s change the subject…

18:  Do we get married?

36:  Yep.  This one was more of a slow burn, but eventually you fall head over heels in love again. We marry at 27, have two kids, divorce at 34.  Another cheater.  Except this one lied until the very end, and to this very day. 

18:  Wow… is this just what happens to us?  We date cheaters?

36:  Hmm.  It becomes something that you become very wary of.  You build walls and push good and bad women away because you fear getting hurt and betrayed again.  But there are a couple of others in between, ones that end amicably.  In a couple of years, dad will apologize to you and you’ll go back to Winnipeg, enroll in university and for the first time in your life, you feel as if you meet people that get you.  That and amongst your friends that you left behind in Winnipeg, you return a conquering hero.  All of the sudden, everyone wants to hang out with you.  You seem so cool and so worldly.  Most everyone else is still living at home.

At university you’ll meet a lot of people, and specifically two women you become involved with.  The first one is Mary, whom you have your first year English class with and carry a friendship with to this day.  You don’t ‘date’.  You’re technically ‘friends with benefits’.  Fuck buddies.  Whatever you want to call it.  You carry on like this for 4 years.  The only rule is no sex if either one of us is dating.  Believe it or not, this relationship works out tremendously well.  She graduated and left to work at a newspaper in a city out east.  You didn’t talk throughout your marriage because your ex-wife was really jealous of other women, but you talk now.  She is married although her marriage seems to be falling apart too.  Although this arrangement worked out well, you were always privately a little miffed that you two didn’t do the usual boyfriend/girlfriend stuff.

The other woman is Kim.  You actually date this one for 6 months, which is a record for you.  You are wary of falling in love with anyone, but she is loving and patient and kind and she peels away your layers like an onion, very gently, before you even know what’s happening.  She is older, 29 to your 21, finishing her Masters degree in anthropology while you’re in your second year as an undergrad.  She lives in another province and is moving back at the end of the school year.  The clock ticks on your relationship, so you cherish and squeeze the most out of your time together.  It was a wonderful six months and she is the first person to really bring you out of your shell.  She was a neo-hippie, slender with long, blond braided hair and long, flowing skirts with a small, studio apartment that smelled like patchouli incense and red wine with Lisa Loeb and Juliana Hatfield CDs playing constantly. 

Two weeks before she is set to leave, she proposes marriage to you.  You are rocked to your toes with the offer.  It means packing up and moving away again, this time out east.  Her father owns a plumbing and heating business and she said he’d be willing to apprentice you in the business so you’d have steady work.  You told her you’d think about it.  But you knew (and probably she knew too) the answer was no.  Kim was a sweet, sweet woman, but you didn’t want to leave your friends again, and you definitely didn’t want to get married.  You told her and she was sad about it, but she understood.  Our last weekend together you two dropped LSD, barhopped across the city to all of your favourite spots and made love all night, fell asleep in each other’s arms, woke up, made love again, took long walks, made love again before she left.  This will probably go down as maybe one of the best times (besides the birth of your children) in your life and you’ll always smile when you think about it.  You tried keeping in touch after she moved away.  The last you heard from her was a couple of years later, when she invited you to her wedding.  You replied, congratulating her and told her you’d try to make it down.  You never do, and you two never talk again.

18:  Wow.  Anyone else? 

36:  There was one more that could’ve been, but wasn’t.  She liked you and you liked her (you really, really liked her), but you were a little… self-destructive at the time, and she didn’t want any part of that scene.  You were a little bitter about that for a while.  You’re good friends now, but no more romantic interest from either of you.  If you were a little less… intense in your early 20s, she was definitely marriage material.  Don’t dwell on it too much. 

18:  What are the kids like?

36:  Your kids are awesome.  I know, we’re dad and we’re supposed to say that, but privately, between you and me, they are awesome.  Nick is 7, the older of the two boys.  He looks and acts so much like us when we were his age.  Unfortunately he suffers from anxiety the way we do as well.  Sometimes he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and he strains to keep it all together.  Both me and his mom keep a close eye on him and remind him that he doesn’t need to take on so much.  He sucks up the environment of what’s going on around him and responds accordingly.  Sometimes when I get short with him he withers the way I used to in front of dad, and I have to check myself.  I absolutely do not drink any alcohol in front of the boys.

He is a strange kid, but in a good kind of way.  He is a lot like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes and sometimes he does things that make absolutely no sense; it’s infuriating and charming at the same time.  He spends a lot of time in a world of his own creation, just like Calvin and just like us.  We did it to cope with dad’s drinking.  He does it for his own reasons.  I suppose we still would have done it had everything been fine.  I don’t know.

He feels the pull of loyalty between us and his mom and her fiancée and we’ve told him that he doesn’t need to do this, but he does anyway.  He feels the need to protect me.  He asks why I live alone and he constantly worries that I’m alone.  I tell him it’s okay, that friends come over all the time and I go out and I see them at least 2-3 times a week, but he worries all the same.  He feels partially responsible for the breakup… he was a witness to the ex’s infidelity.  He was brought over to the guy’s house and played with his kids.  He swims in guilt over this even though it is not his fault.  This is something he’ll spend a lot of years struggling with I’m sure.

Gerry is a 2 year old glowing little bundle of energy.  He is similar to Nick in many ways, and has a lot of Nick’s endearingly goofy traits, but is a lot more laid back.  Nick has always, since the day he was born, a nervous kid.  Gerry is easy-going, but also strong-willed and does not cave in over anything.  This is problematic when it comes to things like bed-times and eating, but I’m actually a little relieved.  Strong will is a good thing, with a little control.  He has the same incredible capacity for imagination and charms the socks off of everybody who meets him.

18:  I never picture myself as a dad.  I mean, I’ve always imagined that I had kids, but I just never pictured myself as dad, you know?  Are we like Dad at all?

36:  You’re very cognizant of behaving like Dad, so you have a fairly strict ‘no drinking’ rule around the kids.  You have Dad’s temper underneath the surface though, and you’re short with them and raise your voice with them more than you’d like and for really inconsequential things.  You forget that they are kids and sometimes you expect too much out of them.  Otherwise, parenthood is one of those things you thought you’d never be able to do until you actually started doing it.  You’re a natural.  You not only love your kids, but kids in general. 

18:  What do we do for a living?  Did we become a writer like we wanted?

36:  Unfortunately no… at least not yet.  You write a few stories for magazines and a few articles for the university newspaper.  You write a few things for websites –

18:  Websites?

36:  You know, the internet?

18:  I’ve heard of it.  *shrugs*

36:  Well, you’ll start writing on the internet in a few years.  And a few people actually like what you write.  You’ll slip in and out of interest as things in your life become more and less hectic.  After you get married though, you virtually stop writing.  You do write about how your marriage is plummeting toward disaster and you gain a small, but dedicated following.  And then you write a blog about your life post-marriage. 

18:  A blog?  What the hell is a blog? 

36:  Short for web log.  A place on the internet where people share their stories.  It’s really popular.  There are millions of them.  It’s kind of like an online diary.

18:  And people read this?

36:  As I said, a few do.  But writing for you now is more like an exercise in thinking out loud for an audience, rather than actually writing for an audience.  And no, you don’t get paid for any of this.  In fact, in the past 18 years, you make a grand total of $255 dollars writing, not including promotional stuff – mostly CDs, tickets to events, books, things like that.

18:  So what do we do for a living?

36:  We work at an office in the construction industry.  We mostly do estimating.

18:  I so do not picture us doing that for a living.

36:  Surprisingly, even though it’s not necessarily a great paying job and it isn’t what you wanted to do with your life, you enjoy it.  You enjoy the people you work with and you’re good at it.  You are well respected by your co-workers and your clientele.  You fit in there.  You make it work.

18:  How did we end up doing that for a living?

36:  Ok, I told you in a couple of years that you’ll get a phone call from Dad.  He apologizes to you –

18:  Fuck off!

36:  Seriously… he apologizes and asks you to come back home.  The offer is mighty tempting.  Money is constantly short and you’re living paycheque to paycheque.  You really need to sort that out, by the way.  Anyway, he tells you that if you come home, he’ll put up some money for you to go to university.  You pay up your room until the end of the month, pack up a couple of suitcases and head back to Winnipeg.

18:  Let me guess… the money never materializes.

36:  He denies ever making that promise, and not too much has changed.  He is still a drunk, still has violent mood swings, although age and hard drinking has begun to wither him terribly.  The inevitability of his own rapidly approaching mortality has left him more morose and pathetic than anything else. 

There was a little bit of a honeymoon when you got back, but then when you mention school he goes ballistic and accuses you of being a sponge and you should pay for your own school.  You pack your bags again and move out, rooming with friends. You take a job at one of those big box hardware stores to make ends meet.  And you basically work your way up from being the maintenance guy cleaning toilets and unclogging drains into sales and escaping the dead-ended surfdom of retail into where you are now.

18:  So, what about school?

36:  Mom, without Dad’s knowledge, co-signs a student line of credit at the bank so your first year of university is paid for.  But after that, you’re on your own.  And you manage, until your third year when you lose the job you had at the time and had a bitch of a time getting another job that paid the bills.  Up until then though, those few years were probably the best years of your life.  You didn’t have a lot of money, but you made tons of new friends, school was good, work, as crappy as it was, was good in its own way and for the first time in your life, you are actually popular.  One of the most popular guys around.

18:  What happened after third year?

36:  You take a year off to gather your wits about you, get back on your feet and finish up.  You’re in bad shape.  You wind up homeless for a period of time.  Eventually, mom and dad find out you’re living rough and offer you a place to stay, which eventually you say yes to, even though you don’t want to.  Things get so bad for us, you attempt suicide, which ends up being kind of a turning point for you, albeit a slow one.  As for school, you never do finish.  You go back part-time for a semester, but that’ll be that.

18:  Things got so bad we tried to kill ourselves? 

36:  Cold, fatigue, hunger, loneliness and depression wear you down.  It grinds you down more than you could ever believe.  Believe it or not, you and mom and dad come to a truce.  You get better under their roof.  You grow stronger and more confident.  You take a job and start saving money.  You get your groove back.  You reconnect with old friends and make a slew of new ones.  But there’s a difference in you that’s never been present before.  There’s a new confidence in you, an indefinable sense that you are in control of your own destiny.  You can’t stop smiling.  It lasts a while, though not forever.

18:  What happened?

36:  You start dating your future wife.

Part 2 to follow...

- PW

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