[To have been published in March. Sorry for the delay.]
You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.
– Eric Hoffer, as quoted by Harold Ramis
Only now, as so often happens with adulthood, do I get the unspoken messages implicit in viewing life as a journey. There is the going, of course, and the looking back, or not. Which of these makes trouble for you gets the balance of your attention, until persistent effort has made that problem so small even you can’t find it any more. How shocking: the mountain, sharp-toothed and insurmountable, not even a molehill! But to see even this, one must pause. We aren’t much on pausing, at least those of us brought up in Calvinist shadow. We have to hurry up and get to work tomorrow. If we paused, we’d wonder where we were going in such a hurry, and why.
That, then, is the journey’s real treasure: the ability to leave it for a while. The pause lets you see the shape of it, walk around the animal of it, hold your hands up to its breath. That gift shines and and shines and can’t weigh you down.
Everything is steady now. It’s a funny feeling. The ground doesn’t shift, and the alternating feelings of floating up into a giddy Teletubbie sky or falling beneath the sidewalk are no longer present. Instead, the daily up and down is more even, and all the business occurs on or slightly above the sidewalk. Pills are at work, but medical professionals are quick to scold: don’t be so eager to give them all the credit. I don’t know what to do with this: if they don’t work, why am I putting up with Cowardly Lion libido? I get the point, as uncomfortable as it is to accept the truth. Unforgiving questioning of the old negative scripts–you aren’t enough, it’ll never work, you have already failed–makes them squirm and eye the exit. Whether the pills are a cause or effect doesn’t really matter. I am happy to talk to the medical professionals, though. It’s important to validate all their time in school.
Still, it’s more than a little weird. I am not sure what to do with devoted friends who are supportive and interested, and even more rewarding to talk to now that our conversations go beyond the immediate task of talking me off tonight’s ledge. I have a surfeit of loving and growth with a beautiful and dynamic woman. Health is more up than down. I have a nice cat.
My job’s end a week ago was a non-event. It hardly registered on an emotional scale, and this was curious but unconcerning. Since it was never meant to be anything but short-term padding, I had even less interest in bringing anything to personalize my space. There was nothing of mine to take home; the computers and monitors I lugged out belonging to the agency. The guy next to me was on a different team, but he was affable, and we chatted sometimes. I don’t think he understood I was leaving the job on a trajectory that did not lead immediately to another job just like it. To stop his questions of what kind of business I was starting, I told him I was taking time for myself to write. After two days the idea percolated through, and his shock changed to wonder. It truly seemed like something new.
I met with my boss the day before my last. He was grateful, animated, and thankful for my professionalism (which still surprises me, as experience has shown this decodes to acting like a grownup). He wanted to take me out to lunch for a proper send-off, which I found unnecessary, and fate conspired to take all his spare time for meetings and “offsites”. In the end, he shook my hand, asked me to keep in touch, and ran off to a meeting. I never saw him the last day.
With nothing to remove, leaving is easy. I take a big monitor home on the bus and make do with just one. Its last work done, a desktop computer, its metal hull battleship-thick, is cleansed of all precious IP (intellectual property: software–especially the human-readable source code–and other documents someone, in theory, would care to steal) and lugged home a previous day. The agency does not need it for a while, so it sits on my main floor and works full-bore on curing cancer, sipping electricity in silence. (My personal 2009-era desktop at the same task shrieked like a hair dryer and made an obvious impact on my electric use, and so sits off.) Mice and keyboards borrowed from The Man are returned, to the supply room’s astonishment. I return sticky notes.
On the last day, I remove the project’s last vestiges from my agency-issued laptop. Setting everything up took weeks. Removing takes a couple days.
On the last day, anxious or stern or aloof administrative assistants (Microsoft’s title for secretaries–typically temporary employees, and all women) roam my pod of tables, arms full of red and white packets. Each desk gets one, even if no one has sat there for months. The woman that comes to me is the sort of heavy-set that would be very attractive if she wasn’t so worn down by work she could take care of herself.
Everyone is being moved, as is standard Microsoft procedure: every six months or so, groups are moved to a different building, or a team broken into separate molecules and dispersed to different campuses. Most often this occurs when a project is in a critical phase, deadline looming, everyone bleary-eyed and sleeping in their cars. I have not been able to discern what the intent is, though the effect is to make in-person communication impossible. On a previous year-long assignment, I was moved four times to four different buildings.
The woman looks at the surface of me, like an elementary school teacher who has realized she dislikes kids. “What’s your alias?”
Throughout this job, admins have come by at regular intervals asking for my shorthand network name. The alias confers a person legitimacy in the Microsoft collective, and existence in the machine realm. Without an alias, one cannot login to the network, print something, send an email, or even enter a building. All the records relating to moving my corporeal self is not related to me, as a living human being, but to these bytes in Active Directory. It is efficient, in that computer way. I believe the alias was invented by George Orwell.
I smile at the woman. My neighbor–the one who could not comprehend not having a job–has been abuzz with rumors of the move, gone with others to see the new location. I am removing the software pictured above, and taking the picture. I smile at her. There is no reason not to.
“It’s my last day.”
It stills her, flummoxed with her papers. I’m smiling and that’s all: no gotcha, no sticking it to anyone, no getting back. I have nothing to let go of because I never grabbed on.
“Oh.” She seems disappointed in an annoyed way. I have probably made some work for her, a bit of extraneous data to clean. She moves to the last desk. “Are you vee-dash-why-arr-el….” The guy nods and she thrusts a packet at him. She exits.
A few hours later, I check around my desk one last time. “Well, see you later,” I say to my neighbor. “Nice knowing you!” he says, happy.
Off and on, here and there, I have checked for Monkey. At streetcorners I look behind me. At home, I lift up rugs and look behind my closet door.
“Monkey? Is that you?”
No answer. The silence is that fullness that does not ring. The sky is grey but not leaden. Empty eyes do not stare out of soulless buses, and people do not huddle in their coats against an indifferent rain. Christmas lights left up are not a source of sadness. Somewhere, cartoons are always on.
I get to writing without the fullbore drive I would have when I was younger, and with modest goals gradually increased. I hold myself accountable and meet them, mostly. A film directing class spikes my anxiety–how can I handle this and get the book written?–but find a way. I keep moving ahead. Time is busy with much leeway. Don’t beat yourself up, I’m told. With some practice, I don’t.
One night the late phone call that needs no phone comes.
I’ve only got a minute.
Some silence. Then: “Where are you?”
Asking questions puts everything back on me. Is that really what you want to know?
“I’m…look, I’m sorry.”
Bet you never thought you’d say that to me.
“You seem angry.”
He laughs, not a monkey screech but a mahogany purr. You’re a terrible mindreader. How’s that working out with the ladies?
“I can only go by what I hear. You said time was short. Are you leaving for good?”
I left a while ago. I was hurt that you didn’t notice, but I got over it. Always do.
“Why did you leave?”
Pharmaceuticals offer an unfair advantage. They don’t get tired.
Oh, now you’re the one speaking from the height? You were such a little thing…. You’re right. It’s best to be honest. Look, things change. It’s all Brownian motion, things bumping together and wandering apart. Any sticking is a temporary arrangement. By which I mean, everybody dies someday. It’s the middle of the night–I can say that. But right now I feel footloose. It’s a big world. So many other deep pits of need to fill, because humans can’t survive a deep pit of need that’s empty.
“You’ve found someone else.”
Not like a love interest. More like: it’s me or the void. Man, you do not want to sit next to that on an airplane, as it were. I’m giving out the best favor anyone can have.
“Maybe that’s how it is.”
I have a big heart.
“You don’t talk as much as you did.”
I only talk when I need to. Them voids, whether they’re real or not–theys can be big.
“You sound satisfied now.”
Do I? Funny. Maybe. I’ll bring that up. Look, they’re here. Last chance.
“I feel all right.”
Good. I like you and always did. You made me laugh.
The line that isn’t there goes as silent as before.
The film class is over. I am plugging through a rough draft and accepting it is a mess, and accepting the advice of the successful to accept that its being a mess is fine. My girlfriend took me to New York and the Oregon coast. She has a new car. The house is clean.
I am not sleeping. I have been dependent on clonazepam to sleep, and two years on a benzodiazepine is too long. Decreasing the pills to halves and then quarters is a modestly increasing goal. I sleep some. I have a headache but the world has a resilience I had forgotten. It’s summer anyway, and it’s bright early and late. It’s a good time to not be sleeping.