At precisely 11:16PM tonight, I’ll have persisted upon this world for a grand-total of three decades. To understand the true significance of this, I believe I should clarify.
I was born on September 18th, 1977 in Washington State, and since that day, life hasn’t taken kindly to my presence. Two months passed, and I went into congestive heart failure; not a heart-attack exactly, but hint enough I wasn’t meant to live. But they saved me, the doctors. I battled almost yearly pneumonia, two hernia surgeries, and a cracked skull, but somehow I prevailed. At the age of six, I was a battle-scarred veteran when most kids explored the wondrous flavors of kindergarten paste.
When the first catheterization came, I was already a regular at Children’s Orthopedic in Seattle. I fondly remember the road-trips and the weird beachball sized things embedded in the electric wires near the city. In 1983 and 1984, Denise Williams forever scorched the lyrics of Let’s Hear It For the Boy into my impressionable mind, defining my experiences in and out of the hospital. The day I finally stayed overnight at the Ronald McDonald House, the reality of everything finally struck home.
I could die.
The first time I awoke after the surgery, I only remember colors: swirls of formless reds, blues, and blacks, swimming in sounds distorted and pulled through time like hot taffy. The world was far more sane the second time I opened my eyes, but I was so thirsty. But my heart was still weak, full of stitches and a Dacron patch bigger than a silver-dollar. I was given a toothbrush dipped in water, and for at least that night, the cotton in my mouth and sand in my throat reigned supreme.
Life was uneven, broken; images came and went, consciousness was a cruel joke, sputtering like a trick candle. One day I woke up with three drainage tubes snaking from my abdomen, ensuring blood wouldn’t pool around my heart, keeping internal-bleeding at bay. It wasn’t night, and I wasn’t tired, but my memories are simply gone after that. I woke again and one tube was simply missing. This happened repeatedly until all three were replaced by rough X’s stitched and bandaged. Anything was better than the occasional twist a tube might receive from a nurse, ensuring no clogs rendered them useless.
Two weeks I was in the hospital, they say. Two weeks I lived the life of Schrodinger’s Cat, unaware of my own survival until the days were whole again, and I was allowed to leave. The true healing took years. My body, finally equipped with a working heart, rebounded from my stunted growth, impromptu naps, and weak constitution, burning with a scorching fire that led to my nickname: Bones Moses. By the time I was eleven, I could have been just another kid.
Except I wasn’t. Even before the surgery, I was a loner. Group activities made me cringe in abject terror, even when I was four or five. Without weakness as a crutch, I was merely socially awkward–a pariah. I played by myself on the playground, constructing increasingly unlikely scenarios which I started recording on paper when I was twelve. For those keeping track, that means I’ve been flirting with writing longer than it seems. My grandmother lived on a dozen acres of land in Montesano, and for whatever reason, that land was covered in derelict vehicles of various description. Those cars were my world for several years; their parts, my laboratory. But I did all this, alone.
I knew many in high school, which brought us together thanks to I.B.’s notorious ability to bond any group of disparate interests through sheer, grueling academic demands. We were friends of necessity, and I miss all of those men and women terribly. And yet, I don’t believe any knew me, because I made no effort to try. Either it frightened me, or I was content merely to coast, but the result is the same.
College was likewise. If not for Rob, Doug, and a handful of others, I would have discounted the experience entirely. Another day, another obligation. It was a sad observation: that I fought death only to abandon life because I was socially incapable. Yet I refuse to lie to myself, or anyone else. I am not made to mingle.
Tonight after work, I went to a bar with some coworkers. Two of them. Maybe it’s an aura I present without intention, but it didn’t surprise me; if not invisible, I’m inconsequential. I know some see me as aloof, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a question of terror. I’ve only met two people more awkward than myself, and even they possess a singular righteousness that draws people past that weakness. Rob, Justin, you’re both examples of perseverance I could never emulate.
I can’t emulate it because I’m a mercenary of fortune. I grew up an only-child. Poor. I’ve literally been the red-headed stepchild, and I’ve thawed pipes in our trailer’s bathroom after a particularly arctic front from Canada proved cold was my enemy. I’ve scoured the pantry for flour and made an egg pizza because I saw it on TV, and it was almost all that remained in the cupboards before our next venture to the grocery store, foodstamps in hand. I’ve been the recipient of a food-drive, and that Christmas, we enjoyed a 26-pound turkey. Mom cried, and I can’t blame her.
I learned to be careful, methodical. I vowed to excel in school, finish college, and forge a future devoid of everything I grew up hating. But it seemed like every subsequent step put me further away from everyone I met, like they were incidental. So it’s no wonder many see me in the same light. That guy is just passing through.
Three decades. Years wasted chasing an ideal that probably doesn’t exist. Running away from people because I can’t handle the over-stimulation. Thirty years, though without the miracle of modern medicine, I would have died before cutting my first tooth. I’m lucky to be alive, yet I’m afraid to live. What kind of terrible irony is that?
But I’ve reclaimed at least one sigil of my past. When I finish Rabbit Rue, and each subsequent book, I’ll slowly reclaim a life I wasn’t ready to embrace. Writing is a very solitary activity, and boring to most onlookers, but I’m not afraid anymore. Alone or not, I’ve got many stories to tell, and I’d hate to waste more time chasing people I’ll never understand.
If you know me and disagree with anything I’ve said, don’t worry. This is all simply how I feel about myself, my own self-image that’s likely tainted by bitter years spent hating the world and wishing I was never born at all. I’ve overcome most–but not all–of that self denigration, yet that tincture will likely hue my perspective so long as I live, no matter how much I resist. I’m thirty, but I still feel like I’m that scared six-year-old, knowing he may never wake up. Somehow, I don’t think I’m alone in being a frightened little kid. Maybe everyone is a child inside, railing against the unfairness of time’s ceaseless march, trapped within ancient bodies, shocked that thirty, forty, or fifty years have already passed while the mind revels in an image of persistent youth.
I am thirty. I am seven. I am sixteen. I am all of these things and none; the mind is not measured in years. My only real regret in all this time, is that I have too many regrets. Maybe someday, I will honestly claim otherwise. I certainly hope so.