I found myself wondering all over again yesterday. I had more than a few reactions to the first part of the story, and they were fascinating and curious, since I didn’t see that coming. But, of course, this is communication, and since I’m the one writing it the responsibility to being clear falls on my shoulders. Suck it up, man.
So I’ll let Harold Pinter take this one. So much for responsibility.
I used to love this Pinter quote, although it’s not really a quote; I just read it somewhere in an interview and appreciated the sentiment, just as I enjoyed Mr. Pinter’s plays. In fact, I’m not ruling out the possibility that I’m simply a character in one of his new ones. That feels right.
At any rate, asked to explain the difference between comedy and tragedy, Harold Pinter said that everything was comedy; the point about tragedy was simply that it had stopped being funny.
So. My life stopped being funny, for a long time, starting last fall. We’re working on it.
You know what bothered me the most? They knew. These were law enforcement professionals, business-like and courteous. They treated me in a respectful and polite manner and they knew all about me, after months of research. And they knew about my future; that was the worst part.
They knew that inside of six months or maybe 12, I’d be toast. I’d wriggle and squirm through the legal system but in the end it’d work out in a conventional manner. I’d go to prison for several years at least; no leniency for this crime. Julie and John would probably move away. No more cute columns about life in the Mukilteo slow lane, only a sad lesson about dark secrets.
I know all about dark secrets. It’s the nature of addiction; you lie to protect your use, a defense. You can’t be telling the whole world you’re drinking three bottles of wine for breakfast and a fifth of vodka for dinner, so you keep that a secret. It becomes second nature, after a while, to manipulate your pathetic reality by lying, even when you don’t need to.
So you can probably understand how, for weeks afterward, I’d wake up drenched in sweat and before I completely woke up, the thought would run through my mind: What did I do?
And I’ll tell you something else, something this alcoholic thought about for a long time: There are no resentments to overcome, amends to be made, atonement to be sought or redemption to be found for a crime you didn’t commit.
Of course I didn’t commit a crime. At least not this horrible crime. I’ve done some jaywalking. Other things.
And it took them about 30 minutes, talking with me, to figure that out, but there’s a process. I’ve found out there’s an inexorable nature to the law, and indifference. And caution.
None of this is the point. The horror and terror, both appropriate words, my family has gone through in the past year isn’t the point, either. We’ve all got problems.
The point is, I hear from readers sometimes. Almost always nice, and sometimes they mention that they’ve found something particularly inspiring or interesting. This is fun and also odd; my style, as much as there is one, is to demonstrate how it’s possible to flail through life completely inept and still find it funny. I have no advice for anyone.
I can’t tell you how to get sober, just how I did. I can’t tell you how to lose weight, just how I did. All I have is my story.
But I think I’ll generalize now, in this specific case, in this forum, because I’m 51 and I’ve been alive a bit now. I’m not a stranger to adversity, although many have it much worse. And I have no interest in examining my victimhood; it’s hard to find something difficult in my life that couldn’t have been avoided or eliminated if I’d simply paid attention or done better. Again, it’s all about the story.
But I managed to come up for air, with lots of love and help. I managed to find some serenity and order after chaos, find a way to reassemble the pieces, learn to recognize hope and imagine tomorrow, learn to get through a day without drinking and know that I didn’t have to, and then the roof fell in, my life shattered into inexplicable pieces and stayed that way. I’m not cut out for this. I don’t have the tools I see in other people. I question, I procrastinate, I hesitate, I’m undisciplined and strength of character is not on my resume, and I found out that you can get stronger.
You can get stronger.
But you’d better own your story.
You’d better be rigorously honest. You’d better know what lurks in the shadows, you’d better know where tendencies take you, you’d better recognize signs and symptoms. You’d better own your story, know where you’ve been and where you might end up, but then you can get stronger. If I can get stronger, anyone can, and I did.
Not without a price, not me. I’m more cynical. I’m more suspicious, and paranoid, and cautious. I get crankier and dismissive, and I’ve lost interest. I’m not as interested in the lives of others as I was. I’m not interested in your political ignorance or your bad taste in movies or your quest for spiritual hedonism.
At the same time, I’ve fallen in love with humanity all over again, it seems. I have no idea why, but I have tremendous affection for people now, people I know and people I haven’t yet met. Funny.
And mostly I’ve stayed alive, and gotten stronger, so I can tell you confidently that it’s possible to transform, to change. To survive.
I’m also more of a realist now. I’m just a story, one of billions, not all that interesting, and despite all that talk up there I still only have so much to do with it. I’ve had to understand that others have power, technical power, legalistic power, but power, and in a lot of ways it remains my story but they get to pick the ending.
I get to write it, though.