One Small Schlep for Man

Or is it a man? I honestly don’t know if the riff works better with what Neil Armstrong said or what he was supposed to say. I won’t pursue the matter lest this post drown in its own meta. Besides, I have deep and meaningful stuff to talk about.

I have reached that point in my life when I think about retirement pretty often. I check the balances of my accounts regularly with guarded optimism. I’m in no position to retire right now, but it looks like I will at the usual 65.

This prediction is made with the assumption that I’ll continue to have a job between now and then, and that the economy won’t face a disaster it can’t recover from. Neither of these is guaranteed, but every day brings me a little closer to making both of them a reality.

Do you know what else every day brings me closer to? Dying. That’s the other side of the coin and I am reluctant to bring it up only because it is so obvious. You have to be crazy, stupid, or young not to grasp the concept of your own mortality.

Even the most fulfilling life has this downside. My life, all things considered, is pretty good. I’ve got privilege, perhaps not Kennedy-grade privilege, but enough to smooth out the rough spots. It does change the fact that time well spent is still time spent. Or to quote that most Yoda-like Kansas lyric, “All your money won’t another minute buy.”

That said, I ain’t dead yet. Looking out the window of the bus, I can say with reasonable certainty that the world is something I’m part of. The freeway is full of people in their cars on their way to do what they need to do, just as I am. I just happen to have the luxury of being able to blog about it rather than having to pay attention to the road.

There are different ways to engage with existence in the present tense. If everything about it is sufficiently wonderful, you can immerse yourself totally in the moment in a nonstop whirlwind of exhilaration. Those of whose lives aren’t quite that awesome have different options.

If your current life is completely horrible and your future is bleak or nonexistent, I can see the allure of taking refuge in your past. Since most people’s pasts aren’t that wonderful either, a mastery of selective memory is key. Mine is less discerning, often coughing cringeworthy tidbits from some of my lower moments. For that reason, I only dabble in nostalgia.

For the most part, my day to day has gotten uncharacteristically healthy. I’m mindful of the future while trying to eke out some enjoyment of the present. This was not always the case, not even close.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to kill off the future or at least kill off my own. How many nights did I lie in bed wide awake, holding two fingers against the side of my neck feeling a pulse that hammered like a spanking? I’d do anything to get some sleep. Just three or four hours, I told myself, would get me through the day so if I had any Percocet, I’d wash them down with whiskey before going to bed.

And then there was 1991, the year I became infatuated with suicide and followed it around like a lovesick puppy. I’d been a cutter since I was 18, but that year I upped my game. Drunk, half naked, and lying on the kitchen floor, I took a razor blade to my wrist and left cuts on every part of it where there was not an artery. I knew I lacked the guts to kill myself on purpose, but accidents do happen and my hand was far from steady.

Then there were the years of heavy drinking. There were no real highs or lows, just a daily routine of trying to run out the clock.

I’m not like that now or perhaps I am but I don’t exhibit the symptoms. My wrist and liver have long since scabbed over and scarred, but I still have a junkie’s need for escape. I mentally check out of situations that I don’t like and paint murals of atrocities on the insides of my skull.

And yet I’m happier than I have ever been. I love Rebecca and like my job pretty well. I know part of me is broken. There is a lot of that going around. I know I can keep schlepping along if I give my crazy enough leash for it to hump my leg, but not enough for it to bite my head clean off.

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