An unhinged cliche. I drive on the Charlotte highway — leaving a hookup — completely fried. Ugh, I think to myself, I shouldn’t have done this. Weed always intensifies whatever subconscious feelings that I am trying to suppress. I haven’t felt like myself in months: unemployed, no space to call my own, no cards in my deck, no tricks in my hand. Even worse, it was starting to show too: I can’t remember the last time I had a haircut, and the self mutilating stress of trying to figure out my life in the midst of a global pandemic has ridden me with an unridden anxiety that refuses to go away. I have the bags under my eyes and night traumas to prove it.
Men, like most selfish beings, see others as symbols that validate and reinforce the identity they are trying to project onto the world. Prove that you have the ability to accomplish said task, and men are more likely to invest in you. Because, in turn, it is a reflection of themselves. I know this and use it as a vehicle of escapism, but who am I kidding? No matter how remote or isolated the corner, no one can run from themselves. The perennial cycle of lessons unlearned, of relationships never concluded….it shows up in even the most subtle ways: the passive-aggressive dynamic with the same coworker at work, dating the same type of man again and again, and repeating the same self-destructive habits. I know this…yet I continue to do it. It is a specific brand of self-loathing that bores a bed of resentment. If I have the self-awareness to know that this is a path to destruction, why can’t I stop? Is it because I am relentlessly stubborn, holding on to survival tactics that have kept me going? Or is…is it that deep down, I am afraid of myself and the potential harvested within me, so I blame it on dead ends and futile experiences? Neither question can be given the full breath of life in one mere hour and a half trip from Charlotte to Spartanburg. Thus, I do my best to focus on the task at hand: getting home.
Shuffling through my liked songs in a feeble attempt to distract myself, I relinquish all effort because I know it won’t work. The tears unexpectedly pound the backdoor of my eyes, demanding to be let out. I choke — I haven’t cried since the last time I was hit by my Dad. It’s easier to brace for a punch to the face than self-disappointment. My self-assured demeanor glistened with hubris in its brightest days, but today it had nothing radiant to reflect from. I only had myself. So, I cried. My tears, in an utter sense of insecurity, came from shame.
from fantasizing about ending my life.
from the insurmountable wreckage that it would cause for everyone who cares about me.
from self-sabotaging myself from reaching the height of my potential.
from the idea of not being able to share love and build community with the kids coming after me.
The last notion rocked me the hardest: I exist to build a bridge of sympathy. No one should endure the depths of loneliness, to go on the dangerous journey of uninhibited self-exploration with no moderators to steer them back to everyday life. Not everyone is fortunate enough to make it back. For ones that do, the energy stemming from fundamental singleness rings in every step they take. I tried to hide my own vibrato under the affirmation of men.
Life contorts itself and jerks with unexpected journeys, but men are everywhere; there would always be a guy who could affirm me and my reality. This codependent contract is laced with terms and conditions. Men only invest in someone who can validate the identity they are seeking to project. I will not be thin with abs forever; there will always be a guy younger and more attractive than me. To be rendered a mere status symbol for a man is a jarring anguish that people have swallowed for eons. At best it might give you a place on his shelf; or if you’re really lucky, a seat at his table — with no mic. A pretty, perishable product. In this codependency, I settled in with docility. Ultimately, I’ve come to realize that beauty in itself is a bad investment. The currency always lessens in value; the market always shifts to redistribute sprinkles of power and hold others out. Why inflate a man’s ego when I can nurture my inner child?
In a state of brittle confidence, I believed that the height of confidence and maturity was represented in the murder of the childhood self. To cast away one’s youngest, truest sense in an attempt to reinvent oneself. But why bury the child when I could nurture him? The investment in beauty molds a fragile armor that guarantees nothing. It cracks and breaks, pouring out the unsightly sides of vulnerability.
So I water the child.
I unearth him from the ground and examine his frame — young, twiggly — a humble reminder of the child I once was, and more importantly, was hiding from. His dangly frame represents a brutal vulnerability: ostracized, thrown to the crowd to be ripped apart for never being man enough… but here he lies, unnervingly himself, content with everything he is and has the potential to be. It makes me teary-eyed, knowing of the life that will be destined for him. I hold him in my arms, quiet from an overwhelming swarm of thoughts that will never see the light of day. Because at that moment, I am happy. Not for having the insight to see what he will become, but because he has the confidence to simply be. And for that, I am eternally grateful…I cry for the both of us.
Drew Davis, part time writer, full time adventurer. Furman University alumnus.