I’m in a big yard in a suburban neighborhood by myself, ball and glove in hand, and I walk inside and there’s pictures on our wall and it’s our wedding, except it’s only me in a tuxedo, and a few family members in the audience, but they’re not smiling; they’re worried, they’re dying, it’s too late. Another picture: I’m tossing a Frisbee to a ghost of a baby that won’t exist in time, in time for my grandparents to see it, in time for me to be a great-grandparent, in time for us to be a young happy family, and everyone’s moving on, and I go back to the empty yard, and I’m surrounded by empty houses, and on another block are all of my friends and their families, happy, real, official, in time, and I wander through their blocks but now they’re busy, busy with reality, and I’m lonely so I go back to my empty street, and I’m even lonelier, and I don’t know what to do to make my block as colorful as their block, and I just want to start over and live a real life, and I feel like it’s already too late, I’ve already admitted defeat by Time, and I look back and try to figure out where I went wrong.
As a teenager, I became acquainted with a person who wrote me short inspirational notes, made to-do lists, left interesting internet tabs open, and signed me up for activities he deemed fun or beneficial. He was sure he had my best interests in mind, but I hated being told what to do so profoundly that I ignored the notes and backed out of the obligations. I did not like this person at all, and I wished he would go away. I made this very clear to him, but he steadfastly continued with the forced role of personal assistant. On rare occasions, usually out of boredom or confusion, I would follow through with whatever stupid event he signed me up for, suppressing any enjoyment. Even the slightest acknowledgment of his existence made him giddy and euphoric. He was really annoying in those instances.
I eventually realized I would have to put up with his perpetual presence. After being around him on a regular basis, I started having more compassion for the guy. There were certain periods where we got along really well; I think I might have picked up a little Yes Man-ism from him. But with the new ups also came some pretty big downs. He got very structured, developing a streamlined system with the goal of making things even easier and more appealing on my end. I think I felt an inherent hatred toward structure in general, and I would explode on him without warning. We had multiple falling outs where I disappeared into a ruleless world of random wandering for a week at a time. Of course, I would always fail miserably in this endeavor, and my loyal friend would always be waiting when I came back. I was certainly grateful for this, but I was afraid of becoming too dependent on him for my own happiness.
With this in mind after one particular argument, instead of responding dramatically by disappearing into oblivion, I determined it would be mutually beneficial if we took an official break for one month. I asked what he would do with the time off, and his puzzled expression made it clear I was his entire life.
It was during this month that I stopped to think for the first time as an adult. I realized his notes had always taken on a bit of a fanatical flavor, and it had gotten more extreme lately. Furthermore, on multiple occasions in recent years, he had signed me up for things I had no interest whatsoever in doing, putting me in numerous terrible, awkward, and perplexing situations. When I thought further about it all, it seems that this guy had some serious issues. He had a knack for cynicism, and I believe he was also quite the schadenfreude.
Now here we are in the present, and I have decided to let him go for good. He is set to return tomorrow, so I’m hurriedly working on a termination letter. This is my current draft:
I fully expected things to continue as normal when you returned, but your absence has given me a chance to think for myself. You might laugh at my use of that phrase, but you’d be surprised what a month can do for a person.
As loyal as you have been to me over the past ten years, you are simply not very good at what you do. Your pro bono help has led me in no particular direction. I clearly struggle without you, but I’d rather struggle on my terms than live under the command of your absurdity. Besides, I no longer want to live in the paper world of notes, lists, and RSVPs, eyes closed to the reality in front of me.
I might have to burn a few bridges to rid myself of the façade you’ve erected for me. I might have to consider an important part of my life a sunk cost and start new. I might have to whimsically pull the trigger on a number of things I failed to act upon in the past. But in order to handle all of this, I need to be left alone. I appreciate all the work you’ve ever done on my behalf, but I can no longer reasonably accommodate you as my assistant.
Please take all your belongings and do not try to contact me in any way. Good luck elsewhere.
And by elsewhere, I mean in Hell.
A Person You Surprisingly Know Nothing About
It took a couple of weeks in San Francisco for me to get fully acclimated, but I was in love the first time I stepped foot in that city. During the first six months there, I experienced some of the happiest moments of my life. I remember talking on the phone while walking up and down the hills with the wind blowing and the buses going by – I had never lived in a big city before, so it was weird getting used to the surrounding noise – and different family members on the other end would mention how happy I sounded. I really did feel a certain joy.
I was starting to get into a rhythm in my graduate program. I was getting good grades and becoming comfortable with my cohort. I was slowly getting adjusted to the city and the surrounding area; I liked it there. A lot. But when the summer rolled around, things changed, and it’s taken me this long to figure out why.
In the winter and spring, everyone was envious of the amazing California weather I was supposedly experiencing. Although SF is much different from the rest of California weather-wise, most people back home didn’t get to play Frisbee on the beach or go for an afternoon hike along the coast. I wasn’t missing out on much because most of my friends were stuck doing boring things indoors and working. Many of them wanted to come visit, as seeing me gave them an excuse to vacation in California. I welcomed and invited them, as everyone else does when they move there.
Over the course of six weeks in the summer, five of my closest friends (three of them girls) and my parents came to visit. It was during this period that I started losing it, and I had little time to stop and decipher my thoughts.
On one occasion, one of my good friends from college had come to visit. I felt like our friendship had been slowly losing ground because of the distance, so I was glad to have her in my reach once again. She joined my SF friends in going out one Friday night, and we had a blast. I signed up to karaoke Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at two different bars to no avail, but the people that did get called up to sing provided plenty of entertainment. Toward the end of the night, the bar was clearing out and quieting down, so we got to goof around and enjoy each other’s company. I thought it would be a good idea to bet Nic he couldn’t moonwalk all the way to the grocery store down the street. I remember closely watching him the entire time to make sure the moonwalk was official, and sure enough, he made it. So much laughing. So much happiness. With my friend from home now here for the moment along with my other friends, I was missing out on effectively nothing. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
When my friend left, something felt amiss. I began taking antidepressants for the first time since I moved, and I started to lose interest in school.
I had little time to think about what this feeling was before another friend came to visit two weeks later. This time, the culprit was a girl I had a little history with. I missed her, and it was fun to act like a couple for the week. Toward the end of her stay, we decided to go out. Nic had just gotten back from Eastern Europe, so it was a “boys are back in town” moment on top of the girl visiting. We had this thing for playing Creed songs on jukeboxes over and over again. Immaturely, we thought it was funny then, but it is still hilarious now. That night was karaoke night, so we thought it would be fun if we each signed up to sing Creed songs. I honestly can’t even remember what song I did – I think it was “One Last Breath,” but the response from our trolling is what I remember more. The DJ was getting a little aggravated after announcing, for the third time in a row, that someone would be singing Creed. Frank and Nic nailed their parts. Long story short, I finally got to karaoke “Lose Yourself,” and the night culminated in Frank singing Juvenile’s “Back That Thang Up.” He knew the song so well that he ignored the censored words on the prompter and sang the uncensored version in a rap voice, while some random girl starting dancing on stage with him. It was one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen. My friend joined in on the fun by singing Meredith Brooks’s “B###h.” Once again, I experienced that feeling of contentedness because I was missing out on nothing; the action was happening right in front of me.
After she left, that unsettling feeling began again. More medicine. More confusion. It is all a blur after that. Two years later, I find myself in a vastly different Bay Area, again far from my original home.
I now understand that the feeling of “missing out” is one of my greatest weaknesses. It is so extreme that it’s hard for me to feel happy for someone if they had fun and I wasn’t there. Thanks to Facebook, text messaging, and my imagination, I was able to see and guess what was happening back home after I had moved. When summer came, I became less important. My friends had less of a reason to stay in touch and more of a reason to enjoy the summer weather and their own friendships back home. I felt like they no longer needed me. I felt like the whole Midwest no longer needed me. When these friends came to visit, I momentarily had control over the situation, and everything was fine. But these friends also brought stories, memories, and feelings along with them. Besides the few good friends I already had in SF, I really hadn’t made many new friends due to the time commitment of my program. The foundations I was beginning to develop were not strong enough to fight against the foundations I had created back home. It wasn’t home in SF yet, and the flood of visitors in such a short time had me confused as to where home really was. Once the seed of “missing out” was planted in my mind, I could no longer be happy in such a distant land.
The things I could not control controlled me.
I love traveling, and as much as I hate moving, I enjoy living in different places. I don’t know how long I will be in my current location, Tampa, and if an opportunity arises in a distant city, country, or planet, I might start off on yet another journey. My point is not about staying in one place, but rather enjoying the moment while I’m here, and not worrying about what I’m missing out on somewhere else.
I do not regret moving from California – I was far from home and confused about life. I do, however, regret letting my insecurity over missing out influence my move so greatly. I wish I could simultaneously be in different places right now, but I will always only be in one place. I’m taking up a tiny portion of a tiny section of a tiny dot on a huge map, and I need to try to be happy where I am for a change. Instead of not missing out on the things distant from me, I need to not miss out on the things right in front of me. There will always be a rest of the world, but I can control nothing more than where my own two feet stand.
*I wrote this while sitting on a rock next to the crashing waves at Lands End in San Francisco last week. Lands End is a shoreline park accessible by hiking trails on the very outskirts of the city, overlooking the bay / ocean, the hills, and the surrounding headlands. Its coastal cliffs truly loom over the edge of the country. It is my favorite part of the city.
I am in San Francisco to get away from everything for the time being and to visit what I considered home for a year and a half. It has been remarkable at times and sad at others, for various reasons. There is so much I miss about this lovely city. I’ve walked about ten miles alone, capturing the crisp, light, clean air while traversing up and down steep hills lined with rows of colorful houses and trees fresh with life. I have been refreshingly drenched by the cool, drifting rain without the protection of a hood or umbrella. I have traveled the same peaceful routes as I did while trying to decipher my thoughts and the world surrounding me here before. I have spent quality time (which sometimes means doing idiotic things) with my best guy friends, met up with a few old friends / past crushes, and made some new acquaintances.
I am seated on the rocks next to the ocean, gazing at the beautiful scenery. But how can I be part of nature in its finest form? How can I be more integrally involved? I sit here and walk through the heart of magnificence but feel so distant from it; I see beauty but am unable to capture it. I am making a better effort than before to try to accept this nature around me. Not trying to overanalyze it, not letting its otherworldliness overwhelm me, not getting depressed because I feel like I am wasting an awe-inspiring environment. I accept it more for the inexplicable part of the world it is and feel less undeserving of the warmth it has provided to my soul. Still, I can’t help but feel a little confused and frustrated.
It reminds me too much of my isolation while I was here before; the same confusion was prevalent in many facets of my life in this city. I was distant and lost, with no way to discern my jumbled thoughts and suppressed emotions.
It reminds me of a lack of progress. By no means do I consider the SF experiment a failure; I made a tremendous amount of personal growth here. I started to figure out who I was, I made lasting friendships, I had joyful times and hilarious moments, and I enjoyed the city and its surroundings. It’s just, I moved away on the premise of temporary failure, on not being able to live and thrive in this city for the time being, on needing something different and familiar, on quitting grad school, on letting down my colleagues and family, on leaving my friends, on giving up so many things I was just beginning. So in my mind, there are loose ends that I can’t quite grasp or that I don’t want to think about.
On top of these reminders, I feel like I have to do certain things while I am visiting other places just to say I did them. This doesn’t always mean touristy things, but it can be seeing pretty sights, eating at nice restaurants, attending fun events, and doing other city-specific things. Because of this, it’s hard for me to go on my own path while visiting other places. In a perfect world, I would avoid most of the usual destinations and go on my own adventures, finding my own sights and roaming through the most serene parts of the city. This is possible for anyone, but at what cost? I can walk on sidewalks and through parks anywhere. I can sit and read next to a body of water in countless places. I can play games and sports and attend entertainment events with friends in plenty of cities. I can eat at nice restaurants and visit unique museums in thousands of locations. Once I spend a legitimate amount of money to go somewhere, I don’t feel like I can just aimlessly wander. The tranquil, undisturbed scenery is the only thing that is distinguishably different to me, but because of the apprehension I get from 1) being unable to explain and capture a city’s beauty and 2) constantly thinking I need to be doing more productive things in my short time there, it is hard for me to enjoy the moment. It’s too distracting. If I do something trivial and quiet to get lost in my thoughts, I incessantly feel as if I’m missing out on necessary things while I visit, but if I do something touristy, I do it halfheartedly and wish I were somewhere calmer. A similar feeling lingered in me while I lived here; I knew there was so much splendor to the city and surrounding area and rarely enjoyed doing simple things as much as I could have because there were always better sights to see. I feel like this beauty is not for me right now, that it limits my ability to think clearly. Maybe that is why I am in Chicago for the moment, because I would rather be in a place with no distractions.
I need to stop overanalyzing my surroundings. This world has a lot of beauty to offer, much of which I’ve been lucky enough to see, but I’ve gotten away from the frame of mind needed to enjoy it. In the future I need to open my eyes and, without thinking, without worrying, calmly let nature speak to me.
Am I happy that I visited San Francisco? Definitely. I needed time with my friends and those moments of getting away to something spectacular. I just came back confused, my thoughts muddled, my path unknown. I’m eager to see what happens from here.
I moved to Chicago for so many reasons. SF is far, far away and the people are very different. I missed simple Midwesterners. I missed chain restaurants (barely). I missed seasons, and the inclination to seize the day because the good weather is more ephemeral. I missed driving on quiet roads in the plains, just getting away. I missed playing Ultimate Frisbee with people who were actually good. I missed being able to park my car without getting a street cleaning ticket. I missed paying less for things (Chicago is expensive, but SF is ridiculous, and the rest of Illinois is dirt cheap). But these reasons are not enough to warrant a move. The true factors were family and friends. I missed my family in Springfield. I missed my family in Florida; it is much easier catching a direct flight to Tampa from Chicago, and my grandparents like driving back to Illinois anyway to visit some of their close family and friends. I missed my close Chicago and Peoria friends. I had a girlfriend and wanted to be closer to her, as a distance relationship would not be feasible.
Let’s rewind a bit. Months before moving, I had dropped out of grad school after finishing 3/4ths of a Master’s program, and my life was so hectic from that point on. I traveled through Europe alone and had some fun and also crazy experiences. I attended a Cardinals win in the NL Championship Series. I saw numerous psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and doctors. I sought the support of friends, yoga, and meditation. I read a few self-help books. I started Adderall. I started and later finished (because they didn’t work) many different antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines. I changed my diet. I realized I am gluten intolerant. I exercised more. I changed my spending habits. I checked things off of my SF area bucket list. I took piano lessons and started to learn French. I read an absurd amount of books. I worked a few minor temp jobs and got paid to participate in a bunch of fun focus groups. I tried to figure out what I want to do in life that isn’t finance. I had some interesting experiences with girls. I rented a Shelby Mustang GT and drove faster and better than I ever have in my life. I went on a bunch of hikes alone. I dabbled with journaling. I went on a cruise with my close friends and saw my family in Florida. I visited home. I started a fun relationship with a girl who had liked me for a long time. I…the list is endless.
All of this sounds like a step in the right direction, and it probably was. Realizing that I had ADHD and depression, and subsequently dealing with it with the right medicine, really helped. Being more aware of myself and of my problems also helped. It was like I was just starting to live, just beginning my actual existence. I knew it would take time to figure myself out. I was confident and had good SF friends to help while I transitioned into a new life and career path.
So if all these positive things were happening in SF, why would I decide to move back home? I don’t have a straightforward answer to that, but for one, I was playing on house money. This all sounds great but living a life of fulfillment and entertainment and medicinal help and little work, etc., are not cheap by any means. At 24, I was lucky to have such great grandparents providing some of my monetary support, but I could not stand still accepting money. I needed to get on my own, to make my own money and get rid of that feeling of guilt. I needed to say I accomplished something and earned an honest living. Every one of my friends had a job or career path at this point. I had been secretly living this lifestyle of wandering for years. On the cruise with my friends, we sat at a table for nice breakfast one morning. A nice older couple across the table asked everyone what they did or were trying to do for a living. It came to me, and I just told the truth of not being sure but doing a lot of fun things while I figure it out. The husband’s response was, “Hey, I can’t wait to live the retired lifestyle either. You’ve got it made.” I laughed sheepishly. In so many ways, this was depressing to me. I didn’t deserve any of this. Yes, it was good I was figuring myself out, but I had to stop being a retiree and start being a poor, hard-working, intelligent 24-year old. In a period of “starting over,” I did not want to be so far from my roots and so alone in my endeavors, enjoying myself in one of the nicest cities in the US. I needed to go back to what I knew. I decided to finish out my Master’s program, but at a sister school in Chicago. I decided living by myself would be the least stressful and best for my new high-maintenance lifestyle (more time alone, better sleep, diet, and crazy mood effects of new medicine / withdrawal of old medicine). I would be within very close range of my friends, girlfriend, and family. I would spend less money and find a job and feel good doing it. All in all, I moved from SF because I believed I needed a support system closer to home: family, friends, doctors, and the comfort zone that had developed over 23 years.
I pride myself on having perspective; I don’t usually judge cities based on small sample size (weather, people, food, etc). But when I lived in San Francisco, I definitely let my circumstances influence me. I thought I needed to get away, that I needed to go home to begin blossoming. I am having this same problem right here in the Windy City. My circumstances are once again affecting me: I cannot find or keep a job, I don’t care about school or the finance path, I screwed things up with my loving girlfriend because I am a distant idiot, I am spending more money than I should (the bike thief didn’t help), I can’t figure out the medicine situation, and I can’t seem to care about anything. I have seen my family and friends more but, when I am so mentally distant, all of that doesn’t help much. I am truly trying very hard but keep facing adversity, whether it is physical or mental.
It is a natural human tendency to remember primarily positive things from the past when things in the present are not going well. I miss the nice SF days, Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks, Highway 1, the ability to walk everywhere, the early baseball, the breathtaking scenery in the area, Frank and Nic and other awesome friends, the fun shopping, the great food, the crazy people, and the amazing experiences I had in the City by the Bay. It has been 6 months spent in Chicago, and I keep telling myself San Francisco is not for me now, but could be in the future. Well, if things don’t go right soon, that future might be sooner than I anticipated. The idea is creeping up in my head to reverse my initial decision to move to Illinois; moving back to SF could be a viable option to get me on that right track I have been seeking. True, living in Chi-town could still turn out to be the best option, and I am not giving up yet. Plus, I still have school to finish, if I decide to do so. I just hope I have perspective in whatever conclusion I reach. I will not be in this rut for long. Whether it is in Chicago, San Francisco, or any other city in the world, I am confident I will find a way to positively contribute to the world soon.