Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Forty-six

Posted by ilbebe on February 10, 2009

After leaving Arcata in December of 2004 and spending the better part of a month in Seattle, where my plans to start a new band and tour for a while fell apart, I wound up back at my Mom’s house in Brentwood and started sleeping the clock around. It was borne of a lack of anything to do and a growing numbness inside, and it didn’t hurt that by moving my waking hours to 7PM to 6AM, my Mom only had a three-hour window in the evening to berate me about doing something with myself. Such cycles of sloth are self-reinforcing, though the constant self-doubt I felt about when considering applying for jobs online at four in the morning was just a small part of the reason I didn’t apply for any. After a month of watching cable in the middle of the night and staring at the ceiling, I moved out to my Dad’s studio apartment in Alameda.

My Dad had essentially been living with his new girlfriend for half a year at that point, so it was no big deal to let me stay there. It was a definite improvement over my Mom’s house simply because it was in the Bay Area, instead of the far suburbs, though having to cook for myself was a drag and I soon started eating mostly pretzels and drinking lots of Steel Reserve. It remains the only time in my life I’ve lived alone, and while it was nice at first it didn’t do much good for my vocabulary, which started to noticeably diminish after a few months of the hermit life. I was miserable. I went days without showering, took long walks in the middle of the night when the island was as dead as I felt, and laid in bed thinking about all the mistakes I’d made in the last year of my life. One night I bought four tall cans of Steel Reserve and a big bag of Fritos and consumed all of it while driving from Alameda to San Jose and then back via the peninsula and San Francisco, crying. The next day my car wasn’t where I remembered leaving it, so I was ecstatic when the following day I canvassed the neighborhood a little more thoroughly and found it somewhere else with a parking ticket and a flat tire. This qualified as a good day.

I started living for Wednesdays, the day the new free weeklies came out, and I anguished over whether to do the new Bay Guardian crossword right then, or to save it for later to have something to look forward to. I’d get anxious when I knew I was going to hang out with friends, wracking my brain to come up with at least one interesting thing to say, and when I tried to say it, I tripped over my words and said ‘uh’ a lot more than I ever used to. One night I wandered through an abandoned grocery store that had been half torn down and disturbed a guy who was trying to sleep there, who appeared out of nowhere and seemed really jittery, asking me what I was doing there in broken and mumbled sentences. After reassuring him that I wasn’t a cop, he retreated to the dark corner he came from, and I found myself wishing he wanted to talk some more, he seemed to be on my level. I tried to read, but had trouble focusing. I slept about sixteen hours a day.

Against this backdrop, I was completely unenthused about taking a trip to Hawaii to see an old friend that I’d booked on New Year’s Day, when the world still seemed bright and appealing. My Dad was excited for me, I’m sure he hoped the trip would help snap me out of the doldrums I’d been in, but I almost broke down when he handed me a twenty on the way to the airport and said “Have a beer on the plane!” His tone just didn’t sync with the dread I was feeling. I had one suitcase with some clothes and toiletries, a book, two cases of Pabst and a Blue Raspberry Mad Dog. The PBR was because I had asked Benji if there was anything he couldn’t get in Hawaii that I could bring him, and the Mad Dog was because introducing the new flavor to him would be one of the few joys I’d had in the past four months. That eighty percent of the weight of my bag was alcohol was telling.

Benji met me at the airport, and things started out on a good note as we rode the bus back to the UH campus where he lived in a residence hall. He was duly impressed that I’d flown twelve bucks worth of cheap beer across the Pacific for us to enjoy, and initially there was a lot to talk about because I could reach back further than four months and tell him amusing stories from when I was still in the process of losing my mind, albeit with the slower pace and diminished flair that resulted from having lost it. The first night was jovial, we drank a few beers and he explained at length his studies in Polynesian anthropology, which really interested me, though a sinking feeling of doing nothing with myself started to cloud how well I was following him. I started having to ask him to repeat himself more and more frequently and got quieter and quieter as the evening progressed..

The next day I walked into the middle of Honolulu and caught the bus that made a circuit of the entire island. It left the city heading northeast through a valley which became increasingly misty as the highway narrowed to two-lanes shortly after cresting the pass en route to Kailua. Enormous banyan trees were mere feet from the side of the highway, and I couldn’t believe that forty-five minutes earlier I’d been in big, dirty Honolulu as we passed small, modest houses with amazing flora all around them. After being on the bus an hour, I found a beach that seemed ideal to relax at for a while. That is, it was completely empty and had a 7-Eleven right across the street where I could get something to drink. Beer was tempting, but I opted for Gatorade and figured I’d try to clear my head and think my depression through.

The sky was a patchwork of clouds as I sat on the beach for a few hours and read Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil’s account of the early days of punk in Detroit and then New York. I’d look up every once in a while to take in the expanse of the ocean in front of me, and try to draw the contrast between it and the miserable lives I was reading about, and ask how I could feel so bad sitting on a beach in Hawaii. I waded out into the ocean about a hundred yards where the water was still only about halfway up my thighs and looked back at the beach, and it was very quiet and it didn’t make sense. I walked through the ocean down to the end of the beach where there were some houses. I stood looking at these houses and wondered if anyone was looking at me, wondered if I was anything at all. Back on the beach a short while later a light rain began to fall, so I got back on the bus. As the bus rounded the north shore and approached the miles of brilliant red soil at the Dole pineapple plantation, I tried to focus on the serenity of the beach and ignore its emptiness, but I couldn’t. I tried to feel an emptiness that focused on simplicity and contentment with the beauty of the world, but I couldn’t. The rest of the week, as Benji and I walked around Honolulu and climbed Diamond Head one day, I tried to be good company, but I just couldn’t.

A year later, I saw Benji at my friends Josh and Bethany’s wedding at Mad River Beach in Arcata. He gave me one of his band’s shirts and we caught up, and I was able to thank him for being so patient and kind with me that week in Hawaii. The following year I went to Benji’s wedding at his wife Kate’s grandmother’s house on Cape Cod and had the time of my life. At the reception, I got so caught up talking to people and dancing I forgot to eat a proper meal, and as the sun set, the imbalance between the food and drinks in me had to be addressed. As I lay puking on the lawn, Kate’s mother came over to me and asked me if I was okay. I adopted a lighthearted tone and yelled Get Off My Lawn!!, and she laughed. When the puking was done I looked at the sky and laughed until I cried, knowing it was the same sky over Hawaii, and Oakland, and Seattle, and the rest of the world, and that our entire lives take place under this sky. In New England, in the summer, the sky can change from blue to thunderstorm grey in as little as twenty minutes, and we can change as much and as often as we will ourselves to.

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