Harbor House Hotel, Salt Spring Island, 1990-something
"Just shut up already, get on with your life."
His candor I admired, even appreciated, although I kind of felt like just popping the son-of-a-bitch in the mouth because I'm so sick of the simple answers, but I know he is only doing what he felt I sincerely needed, a kick in the ass in a new direction I suppose, and really, he is my friend and I know that.
"Look," I said, "even though I'm as sick of this whole thing as you are, it's not like I can turn it off like a light switch, it's eating me, just eating me up. Do you really think I'm enjoying this miserable bullshit? Given a choice, I prefer happiness."
"I know you're not enjoying it, but it's all you know now, so you're stuck in a rut. But let me tell you, you're getting used to your role now as the Miserable Guy and you probably don't know it but your whole psyche has taken on that character and on some levels you're getting something out of it."
"You might be right. I guess I'm used to being sad and miserable and depressed and pathetic and all that and now I'm so used to it that I just continue to stay in this miserable space out of habit. Jesus, what a scary thought! Maybe people feeling sorry for me and throwing sympathy my way is where I'm getting the attention now instead of from her and I'm so used to this now that out of habit I just play the game?"
"Don't worry about it," he says looking away.
My head twirls with this new concept. Holy Christ, maybe I'm actually afraid to let it all go and get on with my life without her because the “depressed dude” has become a way of life and maybe I enjoy being patted on the head like a god damn beggar in Bombay? Oh the hell of it all.
"I think you may be getting it. You're not that out of it. You do know what's going on and you know what? I really do think it's all out of your control, you poor bastard."
"At least you realize I'm not playing this part because its fun. I hate this fucking place."
Just then the waitress, Geena, whom I know by name and who knows me by name - a certain feeling of bar status is measured by your casualness and first-name friendship with bartenders and servers, people who work the place, you know the line "where everybody knows your name"...well everybody can know your name in any skid row of any downtown Draino-drinking alley anywhere - anyway, Geena greets us and asks if we'd like another round of drinks and we agree without hesitation.
My mind is not on the drink, the place, the people, but on me, and my miserable situation. I have become the topic, for me and everybody around me, like it or not. I am going through the sad ending of a relationship that on all fronts appears horribly doomed and so incredibly out of synch after being the center of almost half of my time on this planet.
My life has been toyed with by evil. A warning of some kind would have been nice, I feel, the decent thing to do, although looking for decency in the universe is often futile. All I'm saying is maybe I could've seen a sign, like “Speed Bump Ahead”, or more precisely “beware...gigantic cataclysm will appear out of nowhere”. Nothing, nada, zip, zero. All of a sudden she looked at me like I'd stepped in something. And I did. My life. It was my life that was stuck to the bottom of my shoe.
There is a cloud, a dark billowy monstrosity following me and it came at me with the suddenness and ferocity of a massive prairie storm. It came from nowhere, at least I failed to see it coming. Like a tidal wave, the beach was calm, serene even, before the dark gloom rumbled forth from the horizon. Then boom, off the scale madness. Lost, totally lost.
I now feel I can relate in some zen-like way to those little sad laboratory mice. I feel like I've been singled out for an experiment of some kind, somebody or something is studying me, and my fall, one human being so wretchedly ill-prepared for life's peaks and hellholes and I am now the rat in the cage and I know it.
I'm talking with my friend Anu. I respect this guy. He is loyal, and does not make a habit of discussing your business with others. Anu is cool. His walk, his talk, his whole trip is casual cool. The first time I met him he pulled up in his lowered 5-litre Mustang with a thousand-plus watts blasting "Low Rider" to everybody within a two block radius.
He and I are sitting at the Harbour House Hotel, on Salt Spring Island, population around 10,000 and change. We're in the lounge, one of the Island's more popular bars and the one we frequent most. We know everybody here, and we're comfortable. He continues his analysis of my situation, which is the topic most of the time even though I'd give anything to change that fact.
"You," he says looking stern and true and really wanting me to get his point, "need to let go. Kick some ass, man. Forget about everything and go forward."
I listen. I know. I understand what he says, and I have known this for some time now. But I can't stop the feeling and I cannot control my heart which just toys with my emotional being. It's like a Twilight Zone. I'm a Rod Serling character controlled by a sad old puppet master and I'm his sad old rickety puppet, with a torn little jacket.
My life was a good life. Moderate successes, health, family, material things, all the goodies. Then it all turned into a hellish nightmare and almost a year later it continues on its path, without logic, without meaning, without explanation, and I get bitter and more cynical and more jaded as each day passes. I want another drink.
I replenish the alcohol, and turn my attentions to Anu. “I know you're right, believe me I know, but I've tried everything, from drinking myself unconscious, staying up for days on end trying to figure out the whole thing, I've punched doors, walls, trees, whatever in fits of rage and frustration, I've bought her flowers, and hand written cards pouring out my soul, I've put my heart on the table for her, I've drowned in my own tears like I never imagined was possible, I've tried flirting with other women, I've partied and I've been distracted briefly....but it always comes back to her...I can't explain it, and I can't stand it anymore..."
"I don't know what to do man, I'd love to help...like I've said I think a trip to Monty's would help"
Monty's is a strip club in Victoria, and Anu is convinced it would be good for me, but I have a problem with this whole concept. After having a partner for what seems like forever, when it comes to women, love, sex, and that whole world, I now feel like a hungry child, like a poor kid starving for attention, for recognition, for anything. I don't think it's a good thing to take a love-starved lonely broken man and let him see beautiful women dance naked around him. Sorry, but I cannot see the good in this and so I refuse.
I try and explain to my young friend that yes I do like naked women, hell I like all women, naked or not, but I tell him and try to relate to him that I've had a partner steadily for the past decade. Most of the people he knows and most of the people I will party with tonight were watching Scooby Doo and playing with G.I. Joe dolls when I was feeling my first tit and for them the true understanding of sex and love over a long period of time just cannot yet be imagined.
I miss it. Damn I miss it more than I thought I would. I miss it on many levels too, and I try to explain this to Anu who is now using his strip of celery to wipe off the salty rim of the drink Geena has just plopped in front of him.
"Look, I don't want to tease myself," I continue, hoping in some kind of way he doesn't think I'm strange because I do not want to watch beautiful women take their clothes off...but really I don't, "but I've been having sex since you were seven years old...the last decade or so with the same woman...let me tell you practice makes perfect...you know the Kama Sutra and all the sexual-mystical bullshit? Sex is more than getting off, and it can blow your mind in ways you never knew it could."
He agrees with a nod, but I don't think he really knows what I mean and I think he's eyeing a group of locals who've entered the lounge in a loud way. I continue, not wanting to break my little soapbox speech, my passing of the wisdom to the next generation.
"When you really love somebody on a very deep level you can turn physical contact into a god damn experience that rivals any high. I'm telling you four hours of intensity releases endorphins and it opens your eyes to a place you didn't know was there...they didn't bring this up in Health class, they don’t teach you this here in our part of the world, and once you hit this peak you realize how incredible the whole thing can be...never mind your wham-bam-thank-you-mam act....you'll never go back to that boring shit and that's why I will be alone tonight...its a manifestation of love in the highest form and its real.”
He laughs and sips his drink, perhaps really not understanding what I mean, but I know, god do I know, something in me makes me think about it every day now and it torments me to no end. Nothing, even knowing there are girls willing to sleep with me with little or no effort on my part, nothing and I mean nothing can replace what I've experienced and know as the truth and peak of all humanity. The inescapable misery is in the fact I know it's still possible, or at least I think its possible with that person, and that she is only a mile away we still speak and have contact. I am overwhelmed by the intense frustration of knowing what was and what can be and what might be, but not being able to go there anymore is eating me from the inside.
I have realized what many others have and do every day in every corner of this great big planet of sad souls all trying to find the same damn thing...love is the only real pleasure there is in life and once you've been there and felt your soul fill with the indescribable joys of it, you cannot help but feel life without it is a horribly inadequate waste of time...settling for anything less is to live without purpose, or so I feel...so I order another drink, this time a double.
I feel frustrated at the memories of pleasures that are now just that, flashes of the past, pictures in my head, stored next to and among odds and ends, memories countless in numbers, assembled without order, without sense, and I know in my torment among the endless remembrances of the past there are triumphs of the human soul, unbelievable human journeys that I miss so much now in my solitude the subject inspires anger and frustration and I let it out.
"Fuck!” A few heads turn but I don’t care, “you have no idea...and you grow so close to each other...we only stumbled into this over the last year or so...seriously, things just evolved to this other level...and then wham! It’s taken away, stolen from me...imagine thinking more about giving pleasure to your partner than to yourself...you want the other person to feel full ecstatic joy and full physical reactions that release things we don't understand in the brain, you can be the high, you can be the drug, you can inspire things that make the world stop and you can get off and experience pure soul, pure joy, no thought, just pure life....see I don't want some little girl who has no idea or whatever and besides even if she was good and skilled in this area I really feel like I couldn't enjoy it the way I know I can unless there was love involved."
"No shit...” he says, and I can tell I lost him. I just can’t express it and when I try I always end up in a tangle of words, a mess of converging thoughts and the point I am trying to make disappears like a puff of smoke.
The people who befriend you while you're in the depths of turmoil and misery really must be your friends, even if they have their own failures, faults and bad influences, even if they may make your own self-destruction a little easier, there is some kindness of soul in them to let the stranger with the fistful of problems into their own complicated and troubled lives. Why do they even bother? I don't know yet but I hope I can help somebody someday, I hope I can stand to listen to all the wretched bullshit and broken-heart drivel, I know I can't do it now, because I can barely take my own shit.
"Anu...I know I can't force it, I know I can't just jump into something with someone else, if there was someone else I really truly felt would fill the void, but what do I do to bide my time? How do I keep my sanity?"
"I don't know, man," he says, pointing across the room, “look there's that dude with the GTO. He's an idiot but that car is very cool. And you know the worst part is his girlfriend bought it for him."
Once again he changes the subject, for my sake maybe, more for his probably, and I follow. He is pointing at a local, one who is identified by his car, a 1965 GTO. This island has an old-fashioned infatuation with muscle cars, almost a religious-type devotion to fast gas-guzzling cars of decades past.
The people who take on this role are called "Gunnits" in local slang, and some go back a couple of generations on this island. The auto parts store is like the Vatican to them and if you're lucky enough to be in there when the old mechanic brothers are there, in their grease-stained coveralls hanging like papal robes, you really feel special and I mean culturally speaking it's not the symphony or academic kind of stuff but it's pure and real and there really is a gunnit subculture that is as valid in it's enthusiasm and truth as any more heady, snotty sort of hobby like pottery or theatre or art. I know I can talk to any one of them anytime, just talk four-barrel carbs and intake manifolds and headers, and if you have a Chevy it doesn't hurt either, and you've got a nice conversation, not too deep, but as real as any upscale pseudo intellectual talk over tea and biscuits.
"She's cute," I say, motioning to the GTO guy's girlfriend.
"Yeah she's a hottie," says Anu, "and she bought him that car. Damn, he must have done something in a past life to deserve good fortune."
At this moment the thought of good fortune baffles me. Why for some and not for others? What kind of place is this that harbors such imperfections, such imbalances? The muscles in my jaw clench shut as a surge of anger drives through my body. I look at the GTO guy and try not to hate him for all of life's inequities.
(c) AC James