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Midnight Panic and the Phone Call Voice

At times when things are going neither well nor poorly, when there is a TV that some fool has turned on, when it is one of those early week days and only laundry is happening, it is the worst of times. It is the most indefinite and most normal. It is the holding time of elementary school summers when freedom was no longer new but school too far away to threaten, time stretching out in a bulbous, echoing repetition of walking empty streets and flipping channels. You eat your umpteenth peanut butter sandwich in the flat midday light and your kid mind wonders what exactly is this green suburban quiet.

The Fourth is over. A modest spattering of fireworks popped off above Hilo Bay, put on by the city or a hotel. An elementary school up the hill offered green grass thick and lush as a marmot’s fur to sit on and watch them from. Before and after neighborhood kids set off all manner of phosphorescent noise. Cars drive slowly around the smoking piles. Quiet comes by ten, and a driving rain after midnight.

A week of rest stretches out: I didn’t burn from the beaches, not really, but don’t need more sun. I am tired from swimming miles every day, and possessed by some stronger fatigue that is not like a pill’s next-day shadow. From childhood I remember that point of summer where you keep watching TV because you have watched so much TV. Even though I have watched none it feels the same.

Beaches were emptying–I could have been anxious but wasn’t. I slept in the car and had no fear of being bothered at the county park. I left my bag on the sand and swam the beach’s length with no fear it would be gone. Bright, sunny freedom was an unfamiliar way to feel.

Two weeks ago we met and spent two days together. It was fun, a relief, something temporary we both wanted. She wrote that Friday to say she would call Monday. On Monday she emails she is busy all week. I go to the beach. Yesterday the email was friendly, but she doesn’t want to see me again.

I am sitting in the rented house with a rented car. I have food in the fridge, some on the stove, clean clothes drying from hangers. I scrubbed the bathtub and the toilet and then took a shower to scrub myself. I have been reading a magazine backlog and I realize the secure, happy glow of two weeks ago is gone, replaced with an unfamiliar glassy uncertainty.

I read a book a friend gave me, on human becoming. There are affirmations about forgiveness, being a true person, finding the true Self. It makes me feel I have wasted that potential everyone kept talking about.

Windows are open and the green leaves and blue ocean close in. I do not have a home to go to and have been spending money keeping one that is not mine. The clouds keep coming like they did long before there were humans and as they will long after they are gone, and you really, truly know this. Dusk comes, stars come out. You can’t think of anywhere to go.

Do you feel it, that itch in the air?

The friend calls. She has been meaning to call, has been busy. She has been thinking about you and your conversion to adventure.

This is the friend holding you to account as you become someone else. She has listened to your struggle with guilt and selfishness and hesitation with moving forward for most of a year, a path that mirrored her own. She chastened you weeks ago during the initial phase of strange-new-place panic: you have a job, savings, somewhere to go back to and months in Hawaii. What I wouldn’t give to have your horrible problems.

Sometimes when perspective cuts fear it is like opening a dirty window.

Do you realize how far we have come since New Year’s, that call when I was home doing nothing and you were in a Safeway? Could you have imagined you’d be standing on the back porch of your Hawaii house? You have come a long way. You have a lot to be thankful for. You are doing really well. You are okay.

Like all young depressives, I used to think that the midnight panic visited only me. Everyone else was happy, lifted by the glow of friends and providential grace, free of the doubts and fears that were my constant companions. They didn’t know about the dirty wars in Central America or all the ICBMs poised at us, and even now I am confused as to whether I more resented their ignorance or that their ignorance left them capable of silly kid happiness. I tell myself I am better and work harder, which is really saying I am worse, meaning not good enough, so must compensate. Maybe Monkey says this. It would explain the compulsion to work so hard.

Knowing that the midnight panic is a voice that speaks itself doesn’t make it less solid, or the fear it drapes over the world less present. The lucky among us learn early that those voices are reality the way constellations in the sky are real: they are patterns within ourselves we agree on and can project outwards together. See the bear, the scorpion, the lyre? Yes, we all see them, but the stars don’t need lines to shine.

Human beings are creatures of narrative. We need some story to connect things together and make sense of the world. But as flawed beings we prefer a bad explanation over no explanation. This gap leads to church, Bernie Madoff, our researched and footnoted chronicle of our failed lives.

Sometimes we do well and there’s no funhouse mirror showing the ugly us. There are times you can do your laundry and still ground yourself. Other times, you need the help of a voice five time zones away.

[Permission to use this blog post’s title as a catchy band name is explicitly granted.]

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2 comments on “Midnight Panic and the Phone Call Voice

  1. All the best during this time, Derek. I, too, am undergoing the same things.

  2. I am glad you are my accountability partner. I, too, was down and felt stuck but you made me remember how far we’ve traveled. Six short months. What a small bit of time really. Mere pages on a calendar… but oh how far away in growth and wisdom. New year seems so long ago and so much has changed. We both got big changes. Now we have to learn to enjoy them!

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