“So are these guys like college buddies or something?”
“Well, we all met in high school” I responded to Young Female Coworker. “I’ve known them almost 23 years.”
Her face dropped and her eyes widened a little bit. “I’m 23.”
“I guess I just didn’t realize you were that old.”
Goddamned kids. It was my last day in the office before heading out to the Outer Banks for a week for our annual shindig. As we’ve all moved on in life and a few of us moved away from New Jersey we’ve made it a point to pick at least a long weekend every year to all get together in one place and engage in shenanigans both old and new. Four of the six of us have had additions to their families in the past year, so we decided a beach house where we had easy access to not only surf and sand but also cribs and bottles was a good idea. I suspected The Wives also hoped that the mellow setting would keep our usual late cigar and brown liquor fueled evenings in check. My hunch was confirmed when we arrived on Sunday and began unloading the car. I had offered to pick up a supply of adult beverages before hitting the islands since I didn’t have to fit a pack ‘n play in my trunk and no one wanted to pay the premium prices island locales command. As The Guys and I set up the bar, we noticed The Wives huddled in the corner and gesturing in our direction while conferring in hushed tones.
“Everything OK over there?” I asked, knowing full well we were about to be lectured like teenagers heading off to prom weekend.
“Seems like overkill, doesn’t it?”
“Well, I just wanted to make sure we had a selection. Don’t worry, we’re not planning on finishing all this or anything.”
The Wife made eye contact with me and smirked as the rest of The Wives dispersed, seemingly satisfied. She is in the unique position of having known The Guys since high school, and of being an eyewitness to most of the “OHMYGOD you remember that time…” stories. I won’t bore you (further) with the details, but we had to make our first run to the liquor store on Tuesday, and made daily trips the rest of the week. Our average per day was 2.5 cases of beer, a bottle of liquor which varied based on the theme of that day’s cocktail hour, and a bottle of whisk(e)y for the evenings. Plus wine with dinner, naturally, but that doesn’t really count. We’re not savages, after all.
It’s now the Wednesday after we got back, and it’s the first day since we got home that I didn’t wake up feeling like I was on an alien planet breathing a toxic atmosphere. It’s also the first time I ran since a slow, hungover 10 miles on Saturday. Next week starts training for the NYC Marathon. Most people in my shoes would be taking things easy or at least making sure they were getting to the start of training healthy and well rested. Instead, I’m in the final stages of a 3+ day hangover, am nursing a badly bruised knee/shin I don’t remember bruising, and am somehow 9 pounds heavier than before I left. On the plus side though, I now have a totally bitchin’ tan. As I was enjoying a post run shower beer today and thinking about all of this I had one of those moments of clarity where some deep personal truth is revealed to you through intense meditation, prayer, endorphins, or chemical enhancement.
I was thinking about how stupid it was to spend a week trashing my body right before I planned to push it harder and ask more of it than I ever have. I took a long pull on the beer and stared at the can for a moment as I set it on the towel rack-cum-beer stand. I thought back to countless 5Ks and 10Ks I had raced hungover or with stomach issues caused by choices like gas station sushi or spicy kimchi cheesesteaks. But as I watched the mix of condensation and shower spray drip down the side of the can I realized it’s not just running where I make these choices. I wear a giant unruly beard to work in an uptight corporate office. I never do my mandatory training or administrative reports on time. I antagonize every single figure of authority in my life. I always renew the registration on my car a week late and almost never floss. This is where the epiphany came.
On some level, we’re all a little broken. Some of us in serious ways, some superficial. Some physically, some emotionally or psychologically. We cope by going to therapy, doing yoga or meditating, or with pharmaceuticals (prescribed or otherwise). Some of us run. I’m broken in many ways, but I’d never quite realized the depth of this self-sabotaging fracture. As I stood there watching to see how long the drop of shampoo lather could cling to the bottom of the beer, I ran through all the times I’ve blown myself up and suddenly understood the source of this all wasn’t a lack of hugs from my mother or a longing for daddy’s approval or the effects of sitting too close to the TV. It was fear. Fear of taking a chance, of laying it all out on the line. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of being happy. Fear of rejection. I realized I stayed deep in this fissure of my psyche because it was small and cozy and safe down there. If I set myself up for failure before I even started something it removed some of the fear of foundering because I’d given myself a convenient excuse. And if I succeeded despite the artificial handicaps, well then it was just a more impressive accomplishment and a better story. In a few short months I’m going to be chasing the biggest running goal I’ve ever set for myself, and I know I’ve been a little intimidated by it. I wondered if I was already so scared of it that I was subconsciously sowing the seeds of catastrophe. I committed to myself that I would buckle down and start rationing the beer while training like an animal for NYC. Instead of feeling motivation or a sense of purpose though, I felt hollow. Something was missing.
Despite my penchant for hara-kari making the path here twice as long, I’m in a pretty good position in life. I have a well-paying job with quality, affordable healthcare and live in a nice neighborhood in a bustling city. I don’t have to mine coal or handle toxic waste or give root canals to lions. And although I’ve at times had to lie about where the rent check is, all the bills are now on autopay. I’ve worked my ass off to get here, but I also know I’ve had every opportunity available for the taking and wasted plenty of them. Reaching this point while I’m still young and healthy enough to think I’m invincible is what’s allowed me to say yes to the marathons and travel and literal and metaphoric mountains I’ve climbed in the past couple of years. But because of this perfect little slice of the venn diagram of money, time, and health I’m currently in these aren’t really risks or real avenues for self-improvement I’ve been saying yes to. They’re just a life that I’m finally living. I may be heading down a better path, but I can still see the parking lot from where I’m standing. So how do I do something with this epiphany I’ve had?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Patti Smith lately. I was rolling the lyrics of Pissfactory around my head for the roughly 5,432 time and wondering what to do with my newfound psychological awareness as I worked on a post-shower beer and a half-written blog. The train of thought was stalled due to signal problems, so I took a sip of beer and tried to let the bubbles clear my head, hoping one might float an idea to the surface. And just as the effervescence stung the back of my throat, Patti sang:
I got something to hide here
And I will get out of here
I put the song on repeat and listened again. I may not be in a sweatshop doing hard manual labor, and I’m not looking to escape to the big city to be a big star. But I am tired of the monotony, of a place that chews people up and shits them out. We laid off a guy in our group this past year. He did good work and was well-liked, we just realized we could offer a junior person a promotion to fill part of his workload at ⅔ the cost and the rest of the senior managers could split up the big clients and grow our own revenue streams. I had my best year ever because of it, and the partners are looking for another sacrificial lamb.
I saved my biggest client a ton of tax money as part of a recent project, not long after which I learned they fund PACs lobbying to remove legal provisions protecting the healthcare of people with preexisting conditions. My father’s a cancer survivor.
I may be living a comfortable life, but the cost is sickening. I’ve known this, and I’ve long had the desire to change it. But I’ve been hiding it deep in the back of my mind, buried in that chasm of fear. It’s time to let it out.
So I’m going to be taking some chances. Throwing everything I can think of at the wall to see what sticks. Doing more of this networking thing the kids are always talking about, maybe taking a class or two and exploring career options to atone for the sins of my past. And I’m going to try and write something. Don’t know what it will be yet, most likely nothing more than pseudo-intellectual masturbation, but who knows what’ll stick. My first training run for NYC is Thursday. I think I’ll write about it.