What is that scares you? What keeps you up and solidifies you? What shakes you? And not the monsters-under-the-bed or zombie-apocalypses or spiders or heights fear. But true fear. The fear that infiltrates and binds with you. The fear that is so ingrained in you, you forget that it’s fear. This is the fear that slowly swallowed Danny, that he became lost in and comfortable with. That he learned to embrace and hold as he fell asleep at night, that he cried into, that he relied on, that he dined with and drank with and even toasted on the occasion he noticed it was there.
It presented itself as denial first, then sadness. And with sadness came numb and alone. He struggled to keep his head above water. He kicked and tried to swim to keep from sinking down into that well he’d found himself at the bottom of so many years ago.
He wasn’t fearful of the bottom itself. Last time he was there, he’d furnished it and parts of him missed the old, dingy couch and flickering, dim lamp. There was freedom in the dark. An unawareness anyone could see him and an unwillingness to admit anyone might want to. He lived there for quite some time.
What he feared was never returning. Danny hadn’t found his own way out of the well. The bucket was accidentally lowered and he somehow grasped on. He was pulled up and once again found his heart beating, his laugh crackling, his breath whistling.
And so, as he sank, he desperately kicked his feet and flapped his arms hoping the bucket would once again accidentally lower before he drown completely…
When Danny returned to New York after his crippled engagement ended, he was broken but driven. He had a venture forthcoming that was to change his life and he was convinced that the success of said venture would wipe away the anger and sadness and loneliness he was choking on.
Without going into too much detail, Danny had had his heart ripped out. Again. He’d felt the pain twice prior. Once in his early twenties. Once in the late. This one came at 32. It was slow and cruel. And it broke a vow he’d made to himself and his fiancé.
When Danny tied the ribbon around her fourth finger, signifying the ring that was stuck at a customs counter in Iceland, he promised that a “yes” to the following question, which he then asked in her native tongue, meant there was nothing he wasn’t willing to work through, nothing he wouldn’t abide by her side. Silly and romantic, but very much Danny.
She actually didn’t say it at first. She hugged him and shed a tear. His heart throbbed. Only those who have asked that question understand the extreme need to hear the word “Yes,” and only the word “Yes” before your heart can return to a semi-normal beating pattern.
“You really kind of have to say it,” he stuttered. She laughed. She nodded. “Yes?” He asked.
They ran back to his apartment from the clearing above the Meer in Central Park. They changed and prepared for their anniversary dinner. He called his parents. They cried and laughed. She wanted to call her mom and sister, but time was running short, and Danny had a secret to come.
“I should really call my mom.”
He made excuse after excuse as they rode the subway downtown. Upon the exit of the station, he said, “We should just check-in and call from the restaurant.” It wouldn’t be necessary, as he’d arranged for her mom and sister to be waiting at the bar when he and his new fiancé arrived. There were drinks. There was food. There were friends. And there was family.
Five years later, there was an empty airplane hanger at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. There was a potent and strong high. There was sad music. There were delays. There were drinks. There were public tears. Not shameful ones or hidden but blazing, prideful, angry tears.
Angry over the fact that he never had the guts to tell her off. Never got to say all the things he wanted to. Never got to show her how much she’d broken him. How much of an asshole and a cuckold she’d made him. And that was because, at the time, he didn’t know he was angry. He didn’t know he was broken. He was still in love. He was still hoping she’d coming running down the gateway, screaming his name, begging him not to go. He didn’t care if there was an apology. He didn’t even care if she broke it off with her other lover. He was so deep in love, he was already counting the hours until he could call her after he arrived in the states and his sister gave him the phone she’d bought him.
He made that call. And a handful of others before the realization started to settle in. He was alone. She wasn’t. And calling and hearing her voice and the happiness in it was simply him punishing himself for things he falsely thought were his fault.
And so, he found something to throw himself into. His movie.
It had been ten years in the making at that point; it was time to do it right. So he rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until it was ready. It didn’t take very long. And before he knew it, he was back in New York, he was casting, he was almost there, his life was falling into place, everything was happening. He’d found his own way out of the well, it seemed.
His producers assured him the first time they had to delay production that these things happen and told him horror stories of films that had to push three, four, five times. “This is the business,” they’d say. And Danny nodded and faked a smile and kept his head high, passing along the positive tone to all his friends and family.
By the seventh push, three years later, Danny’s heart had taken its share of beatings. Not just from the constant false optimism and regular delays on his dream coming true, but also a number of deaths, illnesses in his family, financial destitute, jobs and other projects crumbling in his hands, and, of course, simply the readjustment to being back in the states, back in New York – the changes he’d gone through; the growing and changing in friend’s and family’s lives. He’d missed weddings and births and funerals and parties. He’d missed relationships. He’d missed more than he could amass. And not to say it was all bad. Danny also had the time of his life during these years. He met new friends and drank and smoked and danced and listened to amazing music and saw great shows and wrote and wrote and wrote.
In those three years, Danny wrote more than 2000 pages. And he was sure there might never be a more prolific time in his life. So he embraced it fully. He walked home late night. He sang to the city from bridges and waterside parks. He listened to stories. He talked to strangers. He lived.
Then the year hit. The year it looked like it was all going to finally happen. Four new projects, each more promising and fun that the next. His movie at the forefront, having just been written up in the biggest indie film publication out there. What a year it was to be… And what a year it’s been.
It started on such a high, there was really nowhere to go but down. Danny just didn’t realize how fast he was sliding. And how high above his head the water was getting. How recognizable the walls of the well were getting.
The four projects crumbled and fell. His movie delayed again. His day jobs disappeared. His family shrank. And then shrank again. And then again. He was threatened with eviction. He fell delinquent on his taxes. Then, a car even hit him. And while wearing the cast on his arm, in the height of July’s sweltering heat, while walking home from his friend’s house, a walk he’d grown as accustomed to as that of his front door to his mailbox, he was mugged.
His face in his phone, his drunk stumble far too enticing for the youths of the Marcy Houses, he looked up and suddenly felt a fist crack against his jaw. Before he could feel the pain, he was on the ground, feet and legs pounding against him, his hands desperately gripping his computer as he kicked and crawled and tried to get away. He threw his hat at them. He threw his shoe at them. He’d have thrown his phone but they’d already taken that. As he broke away and remembered how fast he could be, even with only one shoe, he cried and cursed and screamed to skies.
The next morning, he woke in a calm, a peace. He thought to himself, “Thank God, it was just a dream and my phone is right… Oh no.” The final drop.
He’d found the dingy old couch.
He rose and turned, feeling the onset of bruises that would cover most his body for the coming weeks, to see one shoe on his floor, a bloody, pavement-stained sock, and a semi-broken laptop.
Fury overtook him.
He leapt to his computer and opened the “Find My Phone” app. He traced it to the northwest corner of the Marcy Houses, and without a thought, he threw on the oddest combination of gym and business attire and set-off towards Jay-Z’s childhood home.
Into the building he tore, uncaring of any warning or bit of danger he was in, and he knocked on every door, asking those who answered if they had his phone. When that didn’t work, he stood on the street and cried and screamed to the building. Were it not for the trio that appeared behind him, asking him less-than-politely who the fuck he thought he was and who the fuck he thought he was talking to, he may have sat there all day. But suddenly, he was very aware.
“Who the fuck do I think I am? And who do I think I’m talking to? Where the fuck am I?”
That last question wasn’t meant geographically. But in life. Where was he?
For the second time within twelve hours, he found himself running from the Marcy Houses, danger close behind. He hopped in a cab to take him home. He tipped generously. He entered his apartment and he stared at himself in the mirror.
What is that scares you? What keeps you up and solidifies you? What shakes you? Danny realized he was so afraid, he was so angry, he had just put himself in an incredibly stupid situation. For what? A phone. A phone that was insured and thats replacement arrived the next day.
It would be great to say this is when Danny woke up and started to see past the fear, but this was just the beginning. A few days later, a very dear friend of Danny’s died out of nowhere. He was 28. And he was beautiful.
Danny sank so deep into it; he denied that the entire thing had happened. He lied to friends. He lied to himself. And refused to see beyond it. He stopped sleeping. He walked all night unless he could find a catchy jazz tune and a pretty face to dance with. He was afraid to go home. He was afraid to see friends. He was lost.
It was his sister who saw through it. She was visiting on her 30th birthday. She saw her older brother hurting and fighting and killing himself. So she forced him to see it. She fought and pushed and wouldn’t let up until he told the truth, not to her but to himself.
It wasn’t easy. But it saved Danny’s life. It hurt, without a doubt. It hurts every day still. And the path isn’t over. Danny needed help and still does. He needed more than friends and family and bartenders could offer. And he would find it.
So, what scares you? Because this is what scares me. That I tried to go it alone in the depths of fear, in the throws of anger. I tried to find my way out of a well that I’d turned into a labyrinth. And the reality is, we don’t find our way out alone. It’s not about finding your way out alone. It’s about realizing you need help. About allowing those that love you to help. And about seeking the help you need, so when you do emerge from the well, when you are on stable, dry ground, you aren’t afraid of falling back in, you’ve learned to swim.