The realization came so slowly. Like a particularly vivid LSD trip, the awareness of the truth threatened to overwhelm him. A visual so all-encompassing he couldn’t see the sides of it.
As a small child, he was aware of his limits. Though he wasn’t conscious of it, those limits made him feel safe. He would always have food, always have a place to sleep. He had parents who saw to his every need. He expected them to look after him. It was his right. He knew nothing else. That’s just the way it was.
About ten years later, he began to realize how precarious his existence was. His mother, filled with fear and foreboding, simply had to tell someone, so she told him. Their home might be repossessed. They had received a Sheriff’s letter, stating as much.
In the week dark hours of the late night/early morning, his mother had stared out of their large living room window, frowning. He had been there to see the worry. The glowing golden ember at the end of her cigarette provided the only illumination in the living room, as she confessed her fears.
They would lose the house. Maybe their large family would have to be split up. She didn’t know where they would get the money, as her husband (his dad) had squandered it all away on booze and the racetrack.
Somehow, a few months later, he learned that they had retreated from their fiscal cliff, somehow. Maybe an angel had intervened, he didn’t know.
He just knew that somehow, despite his bad credit, his father had secured a second mortgage. They would have to move, this time to an older house. The difference in equity would bring a small measure of relief.
A number of years later, the boy had finally grown up. He found a girl, got engaged, got a job at a factory, and had finally moved out of his fear-ridden home.
The pursuit of that elusive safety he craved looked like it was coming to an end. The factory paid well, and he could afford to get a modest apartment with his young bride.
He remembered a hand-drawn sign he had seen during the first week of his job at the factory. It read “ya wanna eat, ya gotta work”.
That thought had stayed with him during his years working at the factory. Its truth was depressing, mostly because of how he interpreted it: “you have to live in hell, if you want to live at all.” At the time, he had no awareness that work could be something about which he could feel passion. No one gets passionate about working at a factory. Especially not a factory that was as oppressive, demanding and as soul-killing as this one.
The search for safety took on a different hue. Years of marriage to someone with whom he could not relate began to poison him. Toward the end of that relationship, he had begun researching methods for committing suicide. He didn’t think he could go through with it for the same reason he couldn’t separate from his wife: his religion forbade it. He knew that tension would end somewhere: it was impossible to keep pulling at both sides without something popping.
One night, on a dark road, he drove towards his home. The small highway was empty, with nothing on either side of the road to see except trees. For just a moment, he had a visual of turning the steering wheel abruptly and crashing into one of them. Everything would be over. It could happen so fast, and he’d find relief. He thought “I could do it. I could just do it now.” The thought was so compelling he found himself frightened. He knew he really could do it.
The next day he saw his doctor and told her about it. After first checking him to see if the impulse was still there, she referred him to another GP – one who specialized in cognitive therapy.
Talking really helped. He was always cheerful with his therapy doctor, seemingly bright and unconcerned about anything. She wasn’t fooled though. She kept asking leading questions.
One day he arrived at her office, anything but cheerful. This was the moment she had waited for. He finally opened up, revealing the torturous angst he had harboured for so long.
“What’s it like when you arrive home from work?” she asked.
“It’s like a living hell” he replied, honestly.
“So” she said, “you realize what you’re doing, right?”
He looked at her. “What?”
“Every time you go home to that living hell, you’re making a choice to go home to a living hell.”
At first, he was confused, then slightly offended. Then he realized the truth about what she said.
She was right. There was no safety at home. There was only hell. And no one was holding a gun to his head. That hell wasn’t being enforced on him. He was making a choice to go into it, every day.
He turned that truth over in his head, several times. He looked at all angles of it, tested it for accuracy. It was deadly accurate, and his ignorance of it had almost killed him.
It took a while but then he decided that he need to start making other, better decisions.
So he did. They did. His wife agreed that they shouldn’t be together anymore.
When he picked up the keys to his bachelor apartment, he felt a measure of excitement. Then, when he opened the door and looked around the small one-bedroom place with the shag carpeting, he breathed in the peace of it.
He was surprised by his own tears.
(end of part 1) (part 2 is here at Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean – Part 2)