Most of us are running away from something or some things. That’s part of human nature and nothing to be ashamed of. At least, that’s what I’ve started telling myself to some positive effect. Specifically for me, it’s been a combination of the fear of disappointing my mother, destroying my last relationship, and the idea that I am failing or have already failed myself. It’s a bit of a cocktail with a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what have yous. As a kid in my early 20s, I’ve dealt with it the only way I knew: getting as far away from it as possible.
Here’s a frightening anecdote from my childhood. I promise it’s relevant, brief, and — above all — not a sob story. It’s a very quick and vivid memory. It goes like this. At the age of four or five, I’m crouched on the floor in the closet of my grandmother’s bedroom. She’s very ill and spends most of the day resting. I’m confident that she won’t wake up and discover me. In my hand is a lighter I found in there on the floor. I’m lighting it over and over, amazed. Eventually, a low-hanging sweater catches and a curl of flame snakes the length of the sleeve. The sudden and hungry light startles me so I run to the living room and jump in my mother’s lap. She’s on the couch reading. I say nothing and bury my head in her chest. Being a good mother, she immediately knows something is up and laughingly asks, “What did you do?” I say nothing and shake my head. My eyes are closed. The memory goes blank after that.
The rest of the day I remember through my mother’s retelling: the whole closet caught fire and smoke was billowing. The fire folks were called. We were trying to get out but, the thing is, my grandmother couldn’t walk very well. So, my mother was panicking on what to do because grandma was a big old woman and my mother couldn’t carry her out. “By the grace of God,” as mom tells it, there was some curiously strong teenage boy who came by and carried her out before the fire department arrived.
How I behaved after Massively Fucking Up was obviously really ridiculously stupid and life-threatening but I was a kid. I thought if I ran to another room and buried my head in the sand, it would go away. To some degree, I’m still that boy. Just like that boy I used to be (and still seem to be), I run away from my problems hoping to escape them and only end up consumed by them.
The metaphorical fires of my life today burn slowly, secretly — smoldering. I thought that if I buried my disappointment with myself and stopped talking to my mom then I wouldn’t have to experience her undeserved support as I squandered the unwavering love she gave me. Figured if I stuffed away what happened with my ex-girlfriend then I wouldn’t have to deal with being a cheater. Figured if I forgot about dropping out of school then it would stop mattering to the world and to me. Of course, that’s not how it works. Of course I’m burning myself up on the inside, and it’s a fitting shame that alcohol is so flammable. With the smoke in my lungs (pack after pack these days), I’m finding it harder to breathe and to see through the haze of my choices. Things like that make it hard to get out of bed, so I begin to wonder why I bother waking up at all.
Surely, this must be the part in the sentimental article where I have an insightful discovery that sets my life back on track. The insight that ends with an exclamation point! A resounding call to action for myself and at least a moment of reflection for you, the reader! If that’s what you’re here for, then I’m afraid you’re going to click away disappointed. I don’t have that.
All I have here is an obvious truth: running away is the same thing as standing still.
Now that that’s finally working its way through my thick-ass skull, I’m trying a slightly different tactic to see where that gets me. Instead of running away from myself, my past, I’m going to run toward something. Hell, I just binge watched the amazing How to Get Away with Murder so maybe I’ll go to law school. Kill a guy. Frame some people. The usual.