- Today -
I sit out on the back porch often, watching little Jesse sniff around our new courtyard, his nose buried deep in overgrown grass. He walks here and there with a strange sort of creeping, squatted gate, never going very fast, never wandering very far. He ducks at car horns. He yips uncomfortably at strangers walking to their back doors. He’s not used yet to the change, of course.
But he ventures out a little further every day, and barks a little less at the neighbors. Like everything else with breath, he’s adaptable. This place is steadily becoming his home, too. In a strange way, it’s a comfort to watch him grow a little every day.
I think it’s funny that we ended up in this location, in this new apartment, just Jesse and I; if it weren’t for Greer Stadium across the street, I might be able to look out from my porch and see the house that Ashleigh and I had last lived in together with our two puppies –– that house that had seen and known and required so much of us.
I imagine the current tenants must have just finished out their first year lease by now. What has that house seen them do? What other stories, besides ours, does that place have to tell?
I call Jesse and go inside to my desk, where it’s quieter, and boot up my computer. I used to be able to do this all day –– just type, alone in my own space, without any hunger for company. A guitar and a word processor were the only companions I needed. And after moving, I’d started drifting back in that direction once more.
But not all the way. In a proper sense of the word, I need people, too.
I open up my word processor and engage my mind, tracing over the previous year, and then the years before it –– analyzing my past self, examining old hurts, picking at scabs and watching how they bleed.
I admit it. I wasn’t ready to write this blog.
I labored under heavy depression as I composed the first chapters in January, and though further along now, I am in no way a “cured” man as I pen the final ones. I stumble often in the same ways as before; I think and say things not at all befitting for someone who’s claimed to have realized so much. In fact, it’s a nasty mind game writing about a present-day problem in past tense, hearing my own narrative voice assuring me that things were all good and over. They weren’t, of course.
In the end, a few glimmers of advice from myself or friends, though comforting, couldn’t change me. And many pages of writing, though therapeutic in their own sense, can’t transform my heart without outside power.
Telling you, the reader, that “everything’s better now,” aside from being a proud, proud lie, wouldn’t make for a very good story, anyway And isn’t it strange how the things that make for the best stories are often the things that make for the best in us? It’s little by little you get somewhere, after all, and I am getting somewhere.
We all long for an arrival of sorts, don’t we? We want a swift end to conflict, a speedy knitting up of all the loose ends (regardless if they’re all messy and poorly woven at the climax). Who has the time for gradual healing? Even if we might say otherwise, our nurtured sense of instant gratification demands a deus ex machina sort of resolution.
But no one’s seen it yet. No, we’re all still in the midst of the journey, and to pretend otherwise –– that any of us have arrived at the end of our toiling –– is to pretend that we’ve got complete control over how our stories start, and how they end. It’s not true. As Sam said to Frodo on the stairs of Cirith Ungol: “…we’re in the same tale still! It’s still going! Don’t the great tales never end?”
They don’t. At least not in the ways we think they will.
So in the meantime, in the toiling, I’m trying not to get in a big rush about things. I’m twenty-three, after all, married for two years and divorced for one, trying to figure out what it means to be creative in America and survive, and how to love well and be loved. And that’s where this blog comes in.
To be completely honest, I don’t really even enjoy writing about myself. The thought of coming up with twenty-four chapters devoted to the telling of my life (especially chapters that other people could read) would have made me blanche in January. If left to my own devices, I prefer to write down things out of my imagination rather than out of the history of my life.
For instance, one day I may dream up a tale about a young boy living on a ranch in Indiana, who speaks to his livestock and knows the language of the earth so that his crops grow.
Or about a hideous monster, living in a decrepit house with his crude brothers, who daily sharpen their teeth and roll in filth though it pains them to do so, because that’s all they know.
Or about a woman stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Or about a society where people are assigned deathdays along with their birthdays, and learn to live functionally with the specific knowledge of their impending doom.
Or about the life of a young man my age that I saw once, selling newspapers just off a Nashville interstate.
Sometimes I spend so much time dreaming stories up, that I begin to wonder if I haven’t already dreamed up the story of how I want my own life to go. On a car ride to a party, I might come up with whole conversations of things I’m going to say to people –– ways I want to flatter them, or rebuke them. I might imagine how I’d intend the night to go, and esteem myself for intellectual conversations I haven’t ever had. I might imagine the whole thing blowing up in my face and feel sorry for myself in advance. I’m a master at crafting expectations. That’s why writing about true things was so good for me.
If I’d known in January how far this blog would go, how much of a true story I’d end up telling, I might not have continued. I’m glad I did.
Writing down real life reminds us that when it comes to our lives, we can only go around telling true stories about our past, and in some places, our present if we’re clear-headed or courageous enough. But once you start telling them about your future –– not in an ambitious way, but in a true sort of way (even if in your own head) –– all sorts of messy things happen, and you begin to find that they rarely come to pass anyway. Real people will always break character in the roles you’ve pinned them in. The simplest of situations can surprise you. God’s universe is infinitely more unpredictable than we have the ability to imagine…
My phone buzzes twice on the desk, pulling me out of my trance.
Tim wants to hang out –– probably to play catch or share music or sit outside in the sun and read. I wrap up my thoughts and close my computer screen; I had been past due for a break, anyway.
I text him back and tell him I’m on my way over. Like me, Tim seems to enjoy having his own place immensely; it’s a two-bedroom duplex a couple blocks down the street from my new apartment. I could walk there, if I like.
So roommates turned to neighbors. After all our conversations and transitions, the unhealthy attachments that I’d formed to Tim and to others began to lift like the breaking of old enchantments.
The day we moved our things, Tim told me still to call or come by if I ever felt depressed. Other friends have urged the same from me. I’ve rarely had to since. Back in the middle of the summer, when Tim announced that he was moving, he said that getting away from the Parliament would make us better friends. I couldn’t understand it then, but he was right.
I grab my keys at the door and tell Jesse to behave himself; it’s an old habit Ashleigh and I used to do, as if to pretend the dogs were like children and could understand us.
The sun outside is warm against the back of my neck; I never take for granted the summer. After locking up, I do a quick stretch and soak those rays in.
But as I move down the sidewalk to my car, everything freezes for a phantom moment. This happens often enough still, that I thumb my left ring finger and feel with a terrible jolt that I’d forgotten something. But the feeling passes quickly, without much ado, and the sun is warm again.
I hop into my car and start the engine.
The story is going on still. I’m falling into more tales all the time –– tales bigger and stranger than the ones I’d ever imagined for myself before, with characters and situations infinitely adept at defying expectation. Things aren’t over; things are still going. And I think that’s good news.