a short story about growing up
|happy in lower-case letters…
I don’t cry much anymore. I don’t laugh much either, but no one seems to notice. I chuckle a bit now and then. I wouldn’t say that I’m sad, not even unhappy. You might say I’m happy, but in lower-case letters.
Adulthood has turned out to be such a disappointment. This work gig is somebody’s idea of a sick joke. We literally get up every day to slave away at a job we could care less about only to make less money which makes us work harder in order to assure an end-of-the-year bonus that none of us is guaranteed. And then we get taxed on the bonus. I should have figured this out years ago, but again, I’m proving myself not to be the sharpest tool in the shed. You would think my therapist would have clued me in sooner, but of course, that would have meant a serious decrease in funds from this cash cow. But I think it goes back further than that.
I was one of those kids in class who would cry if I got an A minus on a spelling test; such a little girl, I was. What was I trying to prove? Somehow I felt it wasn’t good enough that I wasn’t arguably the dumbest kid in the class. That didn’t require any work. I wanted to appear the smartest. Even then I didn’t care whether it was true or not, but how did it look? If only I knew the “me” I was creating at such a young age I would have thrown in the towel then. It would have saved a lot of trouble.
So what does a kid with no self-esteem do with himself? Why, he latches on to guys who have self-esteem to spare. That’s what I did. I started hanging out with the really “cool kids.” They’d allow me to tag-along as long as I gave them my lunch money, bus fare, allowance, and any fun stuff my disappointed parents would care to bury me with. It seemed a fair exchange until I happened to go home with two or three of them and racked my brain trying to tease out the miniscule difference their parent’s paid them from that of my own parents. I got it. Their lives sucked also. I stopped hanging out, kept my few pennies, my 'guilty toys’, and took the bus home instead of walking. It wasn’t that I wanted to get home and be ignored any sooner, I was just tired of having to outrun rabid dogs and squirrels or the halfwits trying to shoot them; or me if I wasn’t swift enough. The ever-expanding suburban landscape could be hazardous to one’s health, especially when hunters thought it could be shared.
I survived childhood; just barely, and went to college; not community college, I had to get away from home, far away. I felt myself turning into my parents and they didn't seem happy people; one trying to drown her dreams in alcohol and food while the other was doing it through incompetent business dealings, both private and public. If I’d stuck with them I would’ve had to move them into my dorm room. And that would not have worked out, as I was desperately trying to lose my virginity to anyone who would take it; and I mean anyone. There were no takers. Not even sex was free.
Enter my life ten years later, failed first job, and I was getting divorced and the unhappiest I had ever been. My wife, ex-wife, had taken everything from me with very little difficulty, and though I had no money, she held onto an IOU. Everything would have ended beautifully except, we chose to have one final kiss-off several months before the divorce was final, and lo and behold, a child was created. I didn’t even remember getting laid. So, just as my life is crumbling around me, someone else’s was being created from the ashes. For several weeks I didn’t know what to feel and then it occurred to me; I should be terrified. I was. My biggest fear was that I would have a son and he would be as big a loser as I was or more embarrassingly, successful.
I contemplated expressing my fear to my ex, but thought better of it; it would have been too predictable. Instead, I sat down and wrote a novel about it; an unemployed stockbroker in the angst of fatherhood who couldn’t figure out what fatherhood was, but knew he wasn’t it. My undersexed editor read it and rushed it to print. Since high school, she was always a little hyper. It was a slam-dunk best-seller. There are so many layers to misery and people suffer insatiable joy when reading of someone else’s. Ineptitude sells so much better than mere happiness and there’s so much more to say about it.
Now I was really in trouble. I was a best-selling author documenting to the world, or at least to the satisfaction of the New York Times editorial board, just how miserable I was. I was accidentally wealthy because I accidentally wrote a best-seller on how miserable I was because I had accidentally become a father. God must have been giggling at me. Imagine how much therapy my son will need when he reads that. And I’d probably have to pay for that too.
My ex and I decided to let the divorce go through, somewhat delayed, since there weren’t even any guarantees she’d carry the pregnancy to term. She’d always been somewhat unpredictable and in a dangerous sort of way. Now, I could get laughed at for considering buying a dog when I couldn’t keep plants alive, but the idea of her having a baby was ludicrous; not the birth part, the parenting part. True to form, she dropped the kid off at my place on her way home from the hospital. I’d only seen him once in the hospital in the off chance he wasn’t mine or didn’t look like me and now I was to see him for months of sleep-deprived days and nights to come. The papers I had been preparing to give up my parental rights were handed to me buried in a bag of formula, diapers, and baby wipes. The papers had been dated several months before his birth. I didn’t even owe her for the cab ride out of our lives.
I stared down at the little bundle in my hands realizing he didn’t have the awareness that he should be crying for his life. I decided to name him Chance. I mean, why not?
Depression has a wonderful way of allowing a depressed person to know that he can’t sink any lower. It’s that allowance that shallows the pit and lets you come back to life. Instead of wallowing in the pit of despair I desperately desired, Chance let me know he needed something. I just had to figure out what; diaper change, a bottle, a hug? There was no time for wallowing. I sent a shopper out to furnish one of those empty rooms upstairs as a nursery. I knew I needed help; I’d needed it all my life. I just didn’t realize how much help. Even so, I was determined to do this all on my own. How stupid could one guy be?
A couple of months later, my parents called to invite themselves over. Amazingly, they were still together. They got tired of waiting for me to call them. I thought they wanted to gloat over what a failure I was. I was so tired I probably would have let them, but when they came through the door and looked at me, they just smiled. I didn’t know what to do with that. They swooped up Chance like Mother Theresa rescuing an untouchable and then they promptly told me to go to bed. I was about to tell them to go to hell when I saw the look of desperation in my Dad’s eyes; plus I was so tired. I went upstairs. I was sure I wouldn’t close my eyes. Who were these people and why trust them with my son?
I slept for fourteen hours and woke up hungry, but well rested, up until panic set in. Had I slept through a couple of feedings, several diaper changes, or a few small cries for help? I headed downstairs and steeled myself against what I might see. The imagination of a writer can be horribly descriptive; or not? My parents were sitting there, wide-eyed, sober, and cooing. Cooing! I almost cracked. Actually, I cried. They didn’t see it, though. I only allow Chance to see that, and only because he doesn’t know what he’s looking at.
From that day on, my parents came over once or twice a week and sent me packing. Usually I went to the grocery store, but every once in a while I went to the bookstore and stared at my one and only best-seller.