I started out being different. Right from the jump, I had to shine. Most of you took 9 months in the cooker. I took a full 10. From Nov 21th all the way to Sept 20th. Poor Theresa must have thought I was never coming. As the story goes, her doctor, Dr. Fanta, was going on vacation in late August and passed her off to another pediatrician. She told him, “No, I’m going to wait for you.” He laughed and said, Good luck, Mrs. McAllen.
He wasn’t laughing when he came back three weeks later and saw her sitting in his waiting room. “We’re going to have to go and get him.” And with that, a legend was born.
All throughout my younger years, I felt different and set apart. I had friends, a younger brother, and 400 cousins that I played with, but I much rather just be alone with my imagination. Once, during a bout of petulance, mother sent me to my room as punishment. Four hours later, she had to peek in to make sure I was all right, the lack of protest giving her fits.
It wasn’t a plan to be different, I just was. I had certain feelings and I wanted to avoid them. I found out later, that this was anxiety. I’ve had mild bouts of it all my life, I just didn’t know what it was. And the anxiety always came in odd forms. Most of the time I loved being the center of attention. I remember as a wee lad, being at a family gathering and having them shut all the lights and shining a flashlight on me as I sang a very off-key version of Glen Campbell’s “By the time I get to Phoenix.” The applause was raucous and very biased. However, when Christmas rolled around and I was forced to sit in a high-backed chair and open presents in front of the entire clan, I was beside myself with worry. “How can I fake it, if I don’t like my gifts?” I lived that re-occuring nightmare well into my late teens.
Then there was the overwhelming fear of meeting new people. I still have that one. I can’t tell you how many times I begged out of commitments and obligations for fear of having to meet the friends of my relatives. My Aunt had all these wonderfully eccentric friends who were involved in all forms of art and intellect. I was either shy around them, or outright rude. Boy, do I regret that now.
The odd part is, I jumped at every opportunity to be the center of attention when it didn’t involve having to look at anyone face to face. Put my in front of 500 people, no problem. One friend of my mother asking me what I want to be when I grow up? I damn near crap myself.
This presented a very difficult problem when it came time to join the workforce. Almost every one of my friends went to work in bars and restaurants as busboys and barbacks. I, of course, couldn’t do that, so I worked in various dirt jobs: a pipe cutting warehouse, installing carpeting, cleaning a bakery; anything to avoid human contact. Or at least, new human contact. My little world was sufficient.
Things got so bad, that once i took my first girlfriend to see Robert Deniro in an off-broadway play. We were maybe 17, 18. Afterward, we were supposed to go to dinner at a nice restaurant. As we approached the restaurant, my anxiety rose to the point where I could not go in. Rather than say, “listen, I’m sorry, but I’m losing my mind.” I simply started a fight with the girl over something trivial, left her and went and got drunk. Hey, it seemed reasonable at the time.
Eventually I decided to remove myself from society entirely. I left Brooklyn and headed to the upper reaches of New York State to study conservation and forestry, in the hopes of becoming a park ranger, or some other isolationist profession. That lasted six months. I was drunk every day of the semester.
All of this was going on in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when two different generations of kids were each evolving through their own extremist fashions. I didn’t dye my hair pink, or get a mohawk, or wear spandex or Jordache jeans. (Ok, I had a Members Only jacket, but that’s only because Sam Malone had one.) I didn’t want to stand out. I didn’t want to blend in either. I wanted to fade into the woodwork. Until it was time.
Low and behold, in the latter portion of 1987, I made some decisions that changed the way I approached life. Well, sorta. By making the radical decision to try and live life without the aid of certain illicit substances, I was forced into a situation where I had to meet new people. Lots of new people. Everyday. It was relentless. Hi, Im bob. Hi I’m Jack. Hi, I’m Anges. Uggh.. and all the handshakes. What’s a anxiety ridden germaphobe to do? I hated it. Until it was time to get up in front of 50 or 60 strangers and tell my story. That part I loved.
Eventually, through repetition, (and the absence of previously mentioned substances), I began to relax around new people. Occasionally, I began to like it. The anxiety began to wane. The weirdness, however, never did. I still wanted to be different. I was constantly told that I wasn’t unique. My replies were often less that civilized.
Of course I’m different. I’m not like you cretins. I just have one thing in common with you. The rest of you are sheep. I’m the wolf. I wasn’t exactly the most liked person in the club.
I was told exactly what I needed to do in order to be successful. I told them that success was for losers. Of course, you can see where this is going. These people were doing their best to change, and they were getting better. I was headed in a different direction. I was headed back to my isolation. They result was a serious, years-long bout of depression. Turns out that I’ve also suffered from depression at various points in my life. I didn’t know that either. I thought a midlife crisis was when you turned 40, you went out bought a Camaro, and stated banging a 22-year old nursing student. I did the opposite. I headed to the couch for nearly 2 years of empty soul searching. You would have never known it though. I never stopped smiling. Never stopped telling jokes. Never stopped chasing women (I just stopped catching them.) This lasted right up until the point that I called the work psychologist and told him that I was quite possibly suicidal.
He diagnosed me in about 15 minutes. Said I was depressed. Said I was a classic ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic). Said I was a classic case of untreated alcoholism. Said I probably never finished anything in my whole life. He pissed me off something terrible. Of course he was right. Pompass jackass. You can only imagine the glee that I felt when I sent him a copy of the book, with the words “Finished It.” written on the inside cover.
Took a while to get here.
Stayed in therapy on and off for 4 years. Dumped the first guy cause he pissed me off. Got a new one.
Celebrated 25 years in the process.
Got into a relationship with someone that was sick and nearly dying, and I didn’t run away at first impulse. Or the second.
Wrote a book.
I still deal with the anxiety and the depression from time to time. They are like two unlikeable cousins. I let them stay for a while, then I tell them that they have to leave. They protest, and then threaten to return.
I still long to be different. My friend calls me the unicorn. I often wonder what sound the unicorn would have made if the friggin lions didn’t eat them on the ark.
Somewhere along the line a friend asked me if I wanted to work nights… in an office.. in a bank… AN OFFICE? And give up my $4 an hour job laying linoleum? Sacrilege. I rather die than sell my soul to the man.
The next night, I walked a nearly empty street, to a nearly empty train… went to work in a nearly empty office. Eight hours later, I passed by weary, forlorn faces as I made my way home, and went to a nearly empty diner, had breakfast, went to a nearly empty laundromat and then a nearly empty movie theater. I’ve been working nights ever since.
My friends call me miserable because I complain all the time. Most of that is for comic relief. I’ll tell you what I tell them –
I may be miserable, but I don’t want to trade places with you or anybody else. Except maybe Jeter, or Eddie Burns.