When I was 19, the oldest I could ever imagine myself was 23. Just graduating college, with the whole world in front of me: just imagine the things I would know. The experiences I would have had. The obstacles I would have overcome.
It was unimaginable. The "adult" world beckoned with its face partially hidden, promising secret pleasures and stringent expectations and responsibilities, whispering the promise that I would be able to handle it, that everything would be hard but worthwhile. I put in on a pedestal, like a prepubescent boy with his Sears lingerie magazine, and gazed at it as the ending point to my journey- knowing I had "made it." It would be in my hands one day, and I would know what to do and my movements would be sure and strong.
When I turned 23, nothing was revealed, and my unimagined future stretched out in front of me like an unfinished phrase, empty and abysmal in its black, blank stare. At 24, no light was cast in any direction, yet around me piled the things that I knew I didn't want. Although knowing what I didn't want was something, it meant turning away from the small island I had labored for, back towards the abyss and its impersonal embrace, a giant throat waiting to swallow me whole. At 24, I decided that something was better than nothing. Patience then, and fortitude, and strength and self-control, those were the things I must exhibit, but at this age, I knew I did not possess these things naturally, and everything became a fight. I would fight for the future that evaded me then. If nothing else, passion. Passion, steel-headed belief, the ability to rise from pain again and again, to grit my teeth and bear the tearing of seams and reaming of my daily return to the cultivation of all the things I lacked.
At 25, under the strain of the uncertain, toppling structure of my island, I cracked up. Far too young, according to Fitzgerald, who anointed his crack-up at 40 as premature. What then, at 25, could I hope to gain from the remaining years of blankness? A surrender to marriage? A crucifixion to children? Everything I had worked for, the self-actualization, the self-awareness, the cultivation of those all-important virtues I had been born without, it was all in vain. The yawn of the abyss became preferable to the rafters crashing in, to being trapped beneath my hopes and dreams and most of all, my faith in the future. It was all a lie, a sham, Maya, and the truth was in nothingness and I hurled myself into it, out onto it, and ate the emptiness with both hands and filled my belly until it bloated and my sides ached with the nothingness. Of course, I was not sated, but the sadistic burning of all the objects of my faith lit my eyes with the fire that had gone out, if only in reflection, and I breathed in the smoke as it burned my lungs and the pain made me feel alive again. Destruction, death, the passing of time to put everything I had dreamt into the ground to be eaten by worms, maggots, the crawling eyeless of the underworld. Decay then. Die.
In free fall, before the ground grows its dimensions and gathers inertia, weight and speed, there is a silent peace that passes all understanding. Movement, the passage of time without space, or space without time, one can think, or not think, live, or not live, one can be anything or not anything as they so choose, slipping into the cracks and slipping through fingers like sand. The dullard, the glazed eyes, the drunk and pleasure-addled, there is no right or wrong, there is only passage without meaning. There is nothing to strive for in nothingness, no goal or direction or purpose or design, it is wildly free, wonderfully free, ecstatically free of the yokes and harnesses of the daily space-time continuum. Life without meaning is still life.
At 26, I'd like to say that I regained some lost sense of myself, that I went through myself, corner by corner and dug out the nothingness I had swallowed, retched it out of me with purposed hands and a keen eye, but I don't believe that once you have swallowed the nothingness, that it ever comes out. But I did begin building again, with a practiced, jaded eye and a careful optimism that barely sufficed as purpose. But the buildings I erected were replicas of the old world I had left and I found I was still the creature I had tried to kill, still with the same weaknesses and shortcomings and still with an empty blank stretching out in front of me. Something, still living deep in the bowels, twisted into a menacing grin and I began sewing the ripped seams with hatred, anger, and pounded them into place, into twisted shapes, menacing arcs and towering arches and challenging domes- who are you to say that this is not art? that this is not architecture? that this is not worthwhile? And in a smaller, more honest voice, asked why this was not ok too?
And I am 5 again, and I am doing everything wrong. I am impatient and angry and everything is unfair and no one is listening and I am ashamed of this tantrum I am throwing. I see the horror in my mother's eyes as I bang the grocery store floor with my heels and the check-out lady's rolling eyes and rows and rows of disdain in every direction, boredom, disgust. I am 16 and I am fighting with my father and I am full of venom and insults and wily, ugly words and he is reeling with every spit and bite, reeling farther away from me and I hate him for it. I am running from the house and into my car and into the night, away, away, and I breathe in the night and the darkness until I feel nothing, the cool, humid nothing that smells of damp wildflowers and trees and pulses with my radio and I am alone and I am ok. And I am ashamed.
I am me is me is me is always me is never not me is always exactly what I always have been and always will be forever and ever amen.
I am 27 and this is all I know. Sapped of any hope or dream to become a better person, I am surrendered to the specter of my self-awareness in all of its unholy glory. I am not humble, nor willing, but beaten, lying on the floor in abject surrender and exhausted obedience. I have won the battle over myself. My culture, my environment, my influences and battles have won the battle for my persona and the infinite compassion of Christ, Buddha, monks, priests, prayer wheels and candles retreats into the blackness and I am alone again, myself, me, always and eternal.
Knowing this now, I can see a little into the future. I imagine I will chase relationships and closeness with my fellow humans, with boys and men of common understanding and sow the seeds of shared experience until we reap the rotten fruit of failed expectations, unfulfilled needs and cutting selfishness. And I will repeat this cycle until I cannot any more, and if my body allows, I with birth children and hopefully understand myself well enough not to abuse them, to try in all the little ways not to become my mother and focus on the differences and not the similarities until such a time comes that I have given everything I am away and I will leave and cultivate a place of true aloneness, true abandon and social exile where I can knit my shabby clothes with my brittle bones and hum out of key with the clickity-clack of my joints. And I can live in peace of finally and completely failing, the peace of no longer caring, as all the care will have been scrubbed from every corner of my soul and I will sink into obscurity and speak in tongues until I die in a cold, tiled floor of a green hospital room.
I do not like these prophecies. I consider mustering the effort to fight, to rise up from the floor, but a rod would fall from the sky and strike me down again, against the floor into my position of subservience and I will live out my days gnashing my teeth and taking large bites of the abyss as it is all around me, woven into the curtains and bed sheets and the clothes of my lovers and children. The very intimacy I crave will turn to ash in my mouth until I no longer open myself up to it and the process of starvation and decay will begin, the systematic shutting down of organs and systems until finally the lights blink out behind wrinkled eyes.
These are the stuff of visions, the eventual evolution of failed dreams visiting late into the night, wide-awake visions of insomnia and stubbornness, of honesty and disappointment, of unsatisfied hunger and car-wrecked memories. The sound of shattering glass is all around and I will lie here in spite of it, in all the shining glory of my vices and the gods will laugh and be satisfied.