Sometimes I feel like I never had a childhood. I don't know why that is. And mathematically, such a notion is impossible; I am currently 24 years old, tiptoeing my way to a quarter century, and you surely can't get to point Y without first passing by points A-through-X. I grew up in a good family that loved and provided for me and did their damndest to understand my contradictions and my sensitivities. But even so, I find myself struggling to remember even passing details about my younger days, like my mind is keeping secrets it doesn't much care to share with the rest of me.
There's one memory that keeps coming back.
Up until I was about twelve, I was debilitated by crippling asthma. "Miracle Baby" and all that. I lived in Morgan Hill, CA until I was eight, and my mom would have to take me what felt like every week to go see Dr. Losito in Sunnyvale, about 45 minutes away. Dr. Losito's office was across the street from a massive Toys R Us, whose well-stocked action figure department was a far cry from the reliably ramshackle assortment of X-Men and Ninja Turtles available at the local Target, and where my mom would always buy me a new action figure after sitting in a sterile white room for an hour while Dr. Losito listened to my airways shrink into themselves. One visit found my young collector's eyes greeted with the brand-new Chrome Dome, the robot that Shredder built to kill the Ninja Turtles (as if any of you don't remember who Chrome Dome was).
I was ecstatic. I didn't even need to look at what else the shelves held. No surprise could've been a fraction as miraculous as the presence of a Chrome Dome. I snatched it from the rack and sprinted to the cashier. Mom paid, we got in the car, and I opened it, only to have the robot's head fall completely off. This was not a feature: this was a defect. I burst into tears. Mom asked me what was the matter, and I told her. She flipped a (probably) illegal U-turn and sped the van back to the Toys R Us' parking lot. We went back inside, and Mom asked me to go pick another. But there couldn't have been another Chrome Dome; these were like a bibliophile chasing down a first-edition Dickens.
But there it was. Another one. The tears dripped into the now-upturned corners of my grin and I sprinted back to make the exchange. Got the new toy, got back in the car, got back on the road. I opened it up when we hit the freeway home, and this new toy, this manifestation of second chances, had its head roll off in the exact same way that the previous one did. Must've been some kind of line-wide manufacturing defect. My enthusiasm dissipated and I hung my head in silence for the rest of the drive back. I never told Mom, and to this day, a broken Chrome Dome resides in the massive bucket of action figures in my parents' basement.
I've been in the midst of an eleven-year-long crisis of both faith and conscience that started when I was fourteen years old, on December 27th, 1999. And things--as things have a way of doing--have ebbed and flowed, been better and been worse, and will surely be both again. Stories and anecdotes drip off of the tongues of everyone I know, and everyone has something to say. But all of my stories are hypothetical. They're things to look forward to, things to pursue, things that I would've rather happened. And I'm trying to put a finger on the pulse of the nature of that.
Contrary to what my recent writing may lead you to believe, I don't really drink anymore. I've sequestered all hard liquor to a cabinet, where it awaits a willing recipient (seriously--if anyone reading this is interested, there's a pretty good selection down there). Been beerless for a while, and the last wine I had was a month ago tonight (yes, Christmas). It's not a moral issue for me in the way that (most Mormons) would consider it to be. It's more of a control thing. On Christmas, the pinot noir demons made a visit, and those sneaky bastards convinced me that a specific bad idea was a good one, and, for the first time in my life, I experienced a true Regrettable Last Night that ended up stretching itself out over several days. It was the first time I've been faced with what I'd always told everyone else who expressed some hungover shouldn'thavedonethat: "Nobody does anything drunk that they wouldn't do sober if no one was watching."
I'm working on a larger piece chronicling my formerly tumultuous (and now more or less nonexistent) relationship with alcohol. It's prime writing material; Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Raymonds both Carver and Chandler, etc. have made brilliance from bourbon, genius from gin. So with respect to this forthcoming work and what I'm trying to do with it, I won't delve into details, outside of this: between October and mid-January of 2008-2009, I was drinking like I had discovered rich Irish heritage and a Swiss bank account bearing my name. Went cold-turkey, and then went back to moderation. Cold turkey again, which held, then moderation again. I never got back to a point where I was being anything but moderate, and I've maintained a firm grip on my self-control for the better part of a year now, something I'm incredibly happy about.
But what's worth noting, if only for myself, is that even on tumultuous days, even after rough nights where I find myself unable to sleep for the better part of 36 hours, even with the emotional back-and-forth that seems to come with every winter, even with the friends unceremoniously up and moving to New York with little fanfare, even with the broken toys and respiratory conditions and late-night drives listening to Scrawl's Nature Film, I'm re-given a realization:
Nothing can make me do anything I don't want to do. I may not be able to control the way that I feel, I may not be able to circumstances in which I live, and any external force is just that: external. Shit happens. Frequently and with great intensity. And sometimes, there's something you can do about it. But sometimes, what you can do is be okay with knowing that there isn't.
I try really hard to end everything I write with some kind of summarizing final line, a coda that can let you spring back into a world not of my own fictional creation. A distillation of everything that came before, leading to some inevitable moral or outcry. And I've been sitting here for about twenty minutes, listening to Tom Waits and staring at the framed poster above my desk like he was singing right to me, trying to think of how to wrap this all up. Endings, like beginnings, are often the hardest part, and I'm at a loss, but I keep thinking one thing over and over and over again:
I'm really grateful to be typing this with open eyes and sober fingers.