I can remember the feeling of wanting to do things, enjoying the company of people, wondering what adventure each new day would bring. There was a time I would live life, socialize, meet new people, have opinions, care. I was well thought of. People said things about me like, “he’s a good guy” or “he is so sweet.” I helped friends. I helped friend’s friends. I helped strangers. I used to help a blind guy named Brian cross 81st street every day. He had a daily doctor’s appointment at the same time I started my shift at the last job I actually enjoyed going to. He was undergoing laser surgery to correct his blindness. He was going to regain his sight after twenty-two years of darkness. He was so excited about it. And I was excited for him. I felt for him. I felt.
The nice guy, the sweet guy, became lost, hidden behind a fog of smoke, a sea of bad memories and an ocean of shots. The chain of unhappiness that followed my move away from the apartment around the corner from Brian’s shook my faith, my ability to love, and my willingness to open up to anyone.
It’s not a sob story or even a sad story. I enjoyed the ride, and, much to the shock of most involved, I’m truly enjoying life now…
The break-up with The Massage Therapist was the initial blow. No need to go into intense detail. I was twenty-one and head over heels with her after only three months. We were inseparable. I moved in with her and her roommate after our first date. Then, without much of any indication as to why, she ended it. She said I was “Too nice and too good.” I was lost. I couldn’t breath or sleep or eat. I quit my job and started racking up the debt that I am now, nearly ten years later, still feeling the lingering effects of. I drown myself in writing and weed, spending every minute of everyday high and glued to my computer torturing the keyboard with nonsensical possibilities of what the relationship could’ve and should’ve been.
Friends told me it would get better; that time would heal, that I would, one day, see the light again. They were right on most accounts. It did get better. But, the light I once lived in never fully returned. It was replaced by a slightly more sepia tone of cynicism and bitterness. My sense of humor darkened, my anger surfaced, my sting became a bite and my laugh lost its flippancy. Games of risk and nights of blackout became commonplace. Bars became temples. I found solace there, understanding, and acceptance. No wonder, when I finally ran out of credit, it was there that I sought work.
The bar world opened my eyes to a community of people equally as jaded and bitter as I was. I dove in full force. Auditions and writing became less important. Relationships became pointless. Money became a traded commodity as opposed to a true currency.
This led to blow number two. My acting manager dropped me. For years, I had become accustomed to not getting booked by Law and Order, feature films, pilot series, and off Broadway shows. I had been so young when I signed with him that I didn’t appreciate the quality of auditions I was getting. I suddenly found myself struggling to find an audition for a web commercial. I would’ve and should’ve cared more, but Jack Daniels had me mesmerized and the new shipments of Afghan Kush kept me sedated when true feelings started to surface.
And then, around this time, I experienced something I had long since thought to be lost – life. I met someone who made me want to wake up in the morning. Who had me utterly convinced my vacation in misery had been my rock bottom. That I had been through the worst it could get. If only.
Months of push and pull through that “relationship” landed me in LA on Valentine’s Day, visiting her. She was a Clothing Rep and split time between New York and LA. The first two days were great, we went out, we relaxed, we drove around, we ate, we bought each other silly gifts, and we kissed at sunset on Sunset. It was great until I found out I was the other guy.
Fallen ships sink slower than I did. Days became waiting periods until the acceptable hour to stumble from doorway to doorway, struggling to remember which one was mine. Then the concern over time of day and the care over others opinions of my behavior ceased to hold any weight at all. The fog of smoke thickened as I dove deep into the unknown territories of forget and regret. Cares over ever climbing out of my misery dissolved along with hopes of truly succeeding. I would sit in bed and plot ways to appear to be struggling and working towards something while doing absolutely nothing. Sex became depressing and difficult. Which was a relief, as it eliminated the pressure of leaving the bar before closing time. The few hooks-ups and one-night stands that occurred ended quickly and with no smiles or satisfaction. I was lost. My parents were disappointed. My friends were disappearing. And the light at the end of the tunnel was out of reach. So, with no clue as to what to do, I made friends with the bottom. I furnished it with chairs and bookshelves. I invited strangers over to see what I had done with the place, and, because they had never seen it before, they seemed impressed.
My laugh had run away. I searched for it. I missed it terribly. It had saved me so many times before, but had finally grown tired of me. And so had I.
It was time for a change. I woke up one day and didn’t get out of bed the whole day. I just lay there until I finally went back to sleep again. Truthfully, it could’ve been more than a day. I hadn’t opened the thick, red drapes in months.
The decision to come back to the world of the living was not an easy one. It took multiple attempts and false starts. It was painful and difficult. But soon after I started, my laugh returned. Along with it, though, came self-reflection – the knowledge of how I had changed, how much I was lacking, and how much I hated that.
And so, the final chapter, resurfacing. I would love to say it took some huge self-revelation, some drastic acknowledgment of what I had become, some true moment of self-growth that culminated in a surge of laughter and joy, but all it really took was meeting the right girl. The love of my life. And it happened completely by accident.
The moment I met her, I could feel it. Air returned to my lungs, walls crumbled around me, light returned to my eyes, bruises healed, a schoolgirl giggle leapt from my mouth and the fog lifted.
One year later, I left New York. I packed all of my clothes and DVDs, and I left behind all the regret, the pain, the memories, and the reminders. To say I don’t miss all of it would be a lie. There’s a romanticism to life at rock bottom. It changes you and a part of it stays with you always. I feel it every day. I have to struggle through it at all times, to force myself to wake up, to convince myself to be happy, to allow myself to see life for all that it is, not just what the ever widening sliver of light I live through reveals.
I’m now turning thirty-one. I’ll be debt free in five months. I wake up, most days, excited and ready. My calendar is so full, I have to schedule time to watch movies and relax. And I fall asleep next to the love of my life every night. I’ll never again be that wide eyed, up-for-anything, full of wonder young man that I was when I first moved to New York. I’ve come to terms with that. But yesterday, someone told me that I was “a really good man.” I smiled politely and felt a warmth inside that led to a burst of laughter so pure and heartfelt and reminiscent of what my laugh once was, it took over my whole body. And it felt great.