On December 31, 1985, I gathered with one of my best friends, his then-girlfriend and her older sister at the girls’ house to ring in the New Year. In my 22 years of life at the time, I had never been so glad to see a single year fade away as 1985. Just about everything had gone wrong for me. I was placed on academic probation in college because of my dismal grades for the fall 1984 semester; then got suspended for the fall 1985 term because I still couldn’t get it right. That prevented me from becoming a full member of a fraternity I so desperately wanted to join. In April my parents and I had to put our German shepherd, Joshua, to sleep. That fall I had my first sexual experience, which proved embarrassing and depressing. In October I fell into a police trap and was arrested for drunk driving. (My blood alcohol level ultimately proved I wasn’t legally intoxicated.) By Christmas, I was an emotional and psychological wreck. I’d come as close to committing suicide as I ever had that year. But, as New Year’s rolled around, I’d settled down my troubled mind and realized my life could continue.
I realized 1985 was the worst single year of my brief existence and hoped I’d never see another one like it. For more than three decades that pretty much held true. For the longest time almost anything related to 1985 made me tremble with anxiety. Nineteen ninety-five turned out to be almost as bad; instilling a phobia in me about years ending in the number 5. Ironically, though, 2005 was a pretty good one for me, and last year was okay.
Then came 2016.
People all around me are waiting for this year to die, like a pack of hyenas loitering near a dying zebra. Aside from a raucous political campaign – with a finale that seems to have set back more than two centuries worth of progress – we’re wondering why this year has taken so many great public figures and left us with clowns like the Kardashians. I could care less. This year has also taken my father and my dog and is slowly taking my mother.
Over these last six months, I’ve experienced emotional pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I’ve never endured this kind of agony. It’s dropped me into an endless abyss of despair. Early in November, strange red spots began appearing all over my body. It brought with it chronic itching sensations. I wondered if small pox had been reintroduced into society and I was one of its unwitting earliest victims. The rashes and the itching would come and go, like million-dollar windfalls to an oil company executive.
It all shoved me back to the spring of 1985 and the odd little sores that sprung up on either side of my midsection. They were painful pustules of fluid that I tried to eliminate with calamine lotion, ice cubes and prayer. They finally vanished, and only afterwards did someone tell me what they were: shingles. I had to look up that one in a medical reference. For us cretins aged 40 and over, WebMD was a fool’s dream. But I knew that’s what I had, and its cause was just as apparent – personal stress. My poor academic performance, Joshua’s death, thinking my failure to join that stupid fraternity was a reflection of my failure as a human being – all of it had piled onto me.
In November of 1995 – about a week after my birthday – I woke up early one Saturday morning, stepped into the front room of my apartment and repeatedly banged my fists against the sliding glass door. I was aware of it, but I felt I was compelled to do it. As I lay back onto my bed, my hands already aching from pounding on the glass, I asked why I had done something so bizarre at that hour of the morning. Then, almost as quickly, I answered myself. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was experiencing serious financial problems at the time and I was having even more problems at work. My father had just experienced a major health scare. One of my best friends was sick with HIV and had been hospitalize with a severe case of bronchitis, and I’d just had a heated telephonic argument with another guy I thought was a close friend over…some stupid shit I can’t recall after all these years. So, after weeks of dealing with that soap-opera-esque drama, my mind cracked. Stress of any kind wreaks havoc on one’s mind and body. It’s several steps up from a bad day at the office. This is why U.S. presidents always look light-years older when they leave office.
So, as I smothered my body with cocoa butter lotion and anti-itch cream, I harkened back to 1985 and thought, ‘Goddamn! History repeats itself too conveniently.’ The death of another dog and more subconscious trauma. This time, though, events have been more critical than not being able to join a fucking fraternity or falling into a drunk driving trap.
But something else has changed. While my body reacted in such a volatile manner, my soul has been able to handle it better. I’m older and wiser now, and with that, comes the understanding that life is filled with such awful and unpredictable events. Yes, I’ve fallen into fits of depression. But I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to harm myself in any way. In fact, I want to heal and keep going. I didn’t kill myself in 1985 or in 1995 or in any other stressful period since then. I really just want to keep going.
I keep a list of story ideas; a Word document amidst my electronic collection of cerebral curiosities. When I peruse that list, I realize I may not be able to bring all of those ideas to life. But, if I didn’t try, why should I even bother with it? Why bother even with getting up every morning?
Something has kept me alive all these years. Something has kept me going. Earlier this month I noticed a cluster of irises had bloomed unexpectedly in the back yard. My father had planted them a while back. With Texas weather being so schizophrenic, warmer-than-usual temperatures must have confused the flowers, and they jutted their blossoms upward into the swirling air. I had to gather a few before temperatures cooled, which they did. They languished on the kitchen counter for the next couple of weeks, longer than usual. And I realized their presence is coyly symbolic. My father was telling me that, despite the heartache of this past year, life continues, and things will get better.
I still miss my father and my dog, but I care for my mother as best I can, even as her memory keeps her thoughts muddled from one day to the next. And I continue writing because that’s who I am and what I love to do. I can’t change what happened years ago, but it brought me to where I am now. I couldn’t alter the events of this past year. But it’ll all carry me into the following years.
Happy New Year’s 2017 to all of you, my followers, and to all of my fellow bloggers!