Did the past happen

or does my mind play tricks on me? You guys know the feeling, right? I can’t really be sure I ever did those things or went to those places or met those people or that those people ever even existed. It’s the memory of a movie or a book. It was someone else’s life, surely. Not mine.

I feel that way sometimes, at least. It’s a strange feeling that seems to intensify with age. Who was that man five years ago? He’s not me. Not anymore.

I made friends in New Zealand once — Spanish and Israeli and Dutch ones. Funny how people can enter and leave your life in the blink of an eye and leave a deeper impact than those who’ve been in your life for years. What impact did I have on their lives? Did I have one at all?

I made a different friend in Vietnam. Or, more aptly, I came to appreciate the presence of one who’d been with me all along — loneliness.

It’s funny how lonely you can feel in such a crowded place. It takes on a different quality when you’re swimming through a vastly different culture, though. I was supposed to be an outsider there, so when I felt lonely it was easier to embrace the feeling rather than feel awkward about it. Back home, loneliness means something else entirely. It means maybe I’ve failed socially; I haven’t made enough friends or acquaintances or I’ve neglected social media accounts. It means I’m an outsider in a place where I’m supposed to belong. How do I reconcile that? Maybe that’s one of the things I like best about traveling: I feel more in my own skin overseas than I do back home.

I wandered the length of the country and snapped a photo of lady-with-bicycle and wouldn’t believe she ever existed if I didn’t have this image of her. We’re so far removed from each other we might as well live in different galaxies and yet, for a second — a split second — our universes aligned and two strangers with almost infinite individual experiences, the experiences the planets and stars and stardust of memories, collided and Big Bang’d out this picture.

I wonder what she’s doing now?

I think I lived and worked in Afghanistan for two years in my twenties. But did I? It’s easier to doubt I was there. I was attracted by a large paycheck and everyone around me seemed to think we were doing good things so what was the harm? A win-win. I helped destroy the lives of countless nameless strangers in one of the poorest countries in the world. Maybe if there exists some tangible benefit on the world now — maybe then I could swallow what I did. But I can’t find it.

Still, when I’m feeling cowardly or nostalgic, I think about my twenties and wonder if the past or the future exists at all. The me I know can only exist in the present, can only exist with this exhale, this pulse, this swig of coffee.

If I think about that hard enough, sometimes I can almost forgive myself.

Look, you guys —

I don’t want to hate people. Hell, I don’t even want to dislike them.

Sometimes I make eye contact with people. Not on purpose, mind, but I make eye contact all the same. And there’s a certain glow that lives deep in there, a little spark, and it’s that light that reminds me others have their own thoughts, memories and desires. And it’s those little eye-contact moments that scare me because I think hey, maybe they see those things in my eyes and I don’t want them to. I don’t want them to see my naked vulnerability, the scared child that lives behind a thirty-one-year-old man’s eyes.

That’s why I’m a reluctant misanthrope — I hate that other people make me see myself.

But, you know, it’s not really just me. I mean, yeah, I don’t always like what I see in the mirror, but sometimes people piss me off through no fault of my own self-reflection.

Take now, for example. I’m writing this in a Fresno coffee shop (I’ve traveled through a strange chaotic nebula of life-altering events, like in one of the old Star Trek‘s — was it Wrath of Khan? — where they can’t navigate the star-cloud, 1 that’s landed me here for ten days on business conducting airborne ecological surveys, even though I’m an English major and could give a fuck about science) and the people next to me are vapid and loud-mouthed and irritating and it would all be forgivable if only they knew they were these things, but they don’t.

Self-awareness — that’s what really irks me. I like to think I’m considerate of my surroundings (probably to my detriment as I constantly swim against a tide of insecurity and social anxiety) and it pisses me off when somebody affects the space around me. You guys know what I’m talking about. It’s the people standing or walking slowly down the middle of an aisle or sidewalk so that it’s awkward to try and pass them; it’s the people being loud in the movie theater; it’s every person driving a vehicle everywhere.

And hey, I’m no saint. I do these things too, sometimes. But I try and adjust once I realize I’m doing them.

Part of the problem, I think, is the American psyche. We believe in looking out for number one. We are all about individuality and capitalism and the Dream.

And somewhere along the way, the Dream twisted and morphed and mutated into a nightmare. The core values of America became a three-word slogan: Fuck everyone else.

I mean, that’s what unchecked capitalism is, really. It’s fuck everyone else in the name of me. But you didn’t come here for a lecture on political and economic systems. The point I’m trying to make is, look — there’s a newly ingrained mentality in America, and that mentality says fuck everyone who didn’t experience what I experienced, fuck everyone who isn’t in my vehicle, fuck everyone who isn’t part of my conversation or creed, fuck people who aren’t like me. There’s a deep-seated fear hinging on this:

If I have to struggle, everybody else should struggle, too.

Fear is detestable.

What was I talking about?

Oh yeah, the eyes.

It’s the eyes that really get me. I see depravity and desperateness and wounds of wanted love. Their wounds are mine, even if I wish they weren’t. I think all the eyes want, when you really look closely at the glow, is to be loved.

It’s easier to hate though. And sometimes it’s fun.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses:

He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.

  1. I should point out, the crew of the USS Enterprise eventually uses the navigational impairment to their advantage, while I haven’t quite figured that out yet.