A humid day – a humid end to the week, actually, with the clarity of the earlier days turning glaucomic and heavy, wet and bleared and breathless. This afternoon it went dark and stormed, hard, but only briefly – just for the span of a few rumbles of thunder; and then, emptied, the sky turned white again, and the sun diffused through the thinning clouds, and white light reflected in the puddles of water gathered on the dark shingles of the apartment complex nearby.
I woke up this morning when it was still dark and couldn’t, for more than two hours, get back to sleep. Call it some kind of lesser insomnia. And there’s a bleak, distant comedy in it, where you lay there incredulous at your own racing mind; and also aware of the fact that the incredulousness itself is obviously a part of the reason why it’s racing, and how masterable an obstacle your own mind should be, and yet, bafflingly, exhaustingly, almost hilariously, is not.
I was laying there in this hilarious frustration, distanced from any actual anger: I entertained it like a theory; it seemed to hang in the air above me, nearby but not a part of me. In some small corner of myself I was enjoying this surreality, even enjoying my repeated efforts to get back to sleep: trying to find the right angle, the right breathing rhythm, the right comforts that would let me finally recross the threshold into sleep.
This seriocomic desperation put me at a weird remove, a particular distance from tangible reality. I felt locked into some coffinlike lesser realm where reality’s normal activities were impossible; and like so many impossible things they took on a glamour, an allure; so that, in the midst of this mild delirium, all I could think about was how much I would like to have a piece of toast with peanut butter on it.
When I was a kid, the only times I ever had trouble sleeping were when I was eagerly anticipating something the next day. My life was calendared by material acquisitions: game releases, my birthday, Christmas, even Easter (which, in my house, was like a minor Christmas, with lavish and real presents).
I was spoiled, but maybe, hopefully, gently so. I wasn’t cruel in my greed, I didn’t throw that many tantrums. But, at some point, I think that I contracted the disease of allowing things to become stand-ins for personality and self. So I think sometimes this selfishness did more damage to me than to others. And when I think of this particular damage, sometimes I’m tempted to attribute to it the fact that, in some ways, I don’t feel like my life really began until I was in college.
Before then, I wasn’t wholly unalive, but I was embryonic. There things about me moving in a direction, but whole wings of myself were also in stasis, or hardly grown at all. I don’t think I resolved into any sort of real person until I was 20 or so.
It’s hard to articulate what I mean by “real person” precisely. But there’s an inescapable shallowness to who I was before that point. Part of that shallowness could be a factor of memory: I have clear memories of college and onward, but everything from high school back seems recessed into some interior fog. Or it could mean that I didn’t really understand who or what I was, or learn how to move in the direction of being who or what I needed to be, until I was older.
To put it another way: when I do remember my high school or middle school or elementary school self, it’s like I’m thinking about a different person, and not myself. There’s a clear, demarcated distance between me and me. And maybe this particular distance is the reason why it’s so hard to remember things about my distant past, other than very specific instances, usually instances of pain or fear, that are inscribed deeper, due the stark authority of those sensations. But always, in all contexts and scenes, remembering that self is like watching an actor go through a role in a play that I’ve seen before, rather than lived through myself. I’m a person I talk about, not somebody I actually was.
I was so incredibly unfinished, shambling around, filled with things and air. I didn’t listen to music. I watched movies almost at random, based on what was popular or what people I liked liked. Words from others were directives. My opinions on new games that I bought were already formed by reviews I’d read, and the playing of them just a fulfillment of what I already “knew.” I dressed like a disaster: frumpy dress shirts from Goodwill, and Crocs with little plastic emblems stuck in the holes for decoration.
Even when I read, I just followed the examples I had chosen as polestars, reading what they read or told me to read. And it’s hard to say that anything I read sunk very deep, because what was there to sink into?
The only elements, of course, that were truly rigid and defined in my life were my compulsions. They supplanted a personality and stunted my becoming, just like all those things I coveted – because what else were they besides things, inert constructs?