17 February 2012

The Transience of Relationships and Hope

I have rarely found it bothersome to think of people as transient. My core group of friends has remained stable for nearly 20 years. Others have come and gone, but sometimes they come back to me. It's not uncommon for me to reunite with someone after several years, to discover that the chemistry has remained intact. We trade "What's happened in your world?" stories, reestablishing the context in which our relationship is resuming and then we're off and running. Facebook has been a godsend to this end; I have enjoyed reconnecting with several old pals through that site.

What upsets me most, I think, is that I'm at a point in my life where if I was writing it, I would very likely scrap the whole damn thing and begin anew. So many things have gone awry, and it feels insurmountable to repair that damage. If I was healthy and could  find  (and keep) gainful employment, I could do it. But as it stands, I just cannot see what possible means exist to find my footing--which, I'll be honest, I'm not entirely sure I ever had in the first place.

One of the recurring refrains among Facebook users is, "I didn't like you in high school so why would I want to friend you now?" It's a fair question. It's crossed my own mind on more than one occasion. Sometimes, I have declined the request. I confess: once or twice, I approved it just to then un-friend the person shortly thereafter once I got the feeling that they had only added me out of some kind of "collect 'em all" mentality. I am not a Pokemon.

That said, I believe we each evolve. I believe in redemption, and that means that every time I'm contacted by someone from the past, I'm hopeful it means, "Hi, Travis, I've been racked with guilt for half my life over picking on you and I'm grateful you endured all that bullshit and that you're doing better today." Maybe it means, "I was totally into you but I was stupid and never said anything about it." More often, though, I think it just means, "I saw your name on here and I recognized it so I clicked "+1 Add Friend."

I'm terrified that I will die alone. It might sound like hyperbole, but consider that because of what Crohn's has done to my quality of life I don't get out much. What chance do I really have of meeting someone in passing at Walmart, or Half Price Books?  "OH HAI. IM INTO U." Yeah, that'll work. I've caught defensive glances from women in the last few months. When I was with my wife, I was entirely harmless and they would smile back as they let me pass in the grocery aisle. Now, though, it's just me and they look like they're ready to grab their mace if I try to reach past them for the Oreos.

Some people are threatened by the transient nature of life. Friends come and go. Some people become bitter and guarded, convinced that "people will let you down." I have been fortunate in that regard. I have reconnected in the last few months with a couple of old pals. After the initial "What's been going on with you?" discussions, I've found the old chemistry still intact. The sense of humor that drew me to these people originally has survived college, job changes, moving, relationships, marriages and even the birth of children. At their core, they're still the same people I once liked and I've enjoyed sharing their company again--even if it has been exclusively online.

The first thing I've written since completing the first draft of my novel was a reflection on Doctor Zhivago for Flickchart: The Blog. It hasn't been finalized or published yet, but it's been in my mind for the better part of a year now. In my forthcoming post about it, I recalled the first time I saw it which was about 21 years ago in seventh grade. One subplot that struck me was that of Pasha (Tom Courtenay), the naive boy who loves Lara (Julie Christie). She eventually casts him out of her life (ostensibly, to spare him from the poison that her life has become). Pasha returns after the outbreak of the revolution as the cold and ruthless General Strelnikov. Even in 7th grade, I fancied the notion of one day becoming a Strelnikov and exacting my revenge on my classmates. The truth is, I'm just a Pasha. I don't have it in me to become Strelnikov. I'm just the pathetic boy who doesn't belong in a woman's life.

A former classmate of mine asked me forever ago to name a character after her in my first book. My self-denial about whether I could write is well chronicled, but I kept her request in my mind this entire time. That led me to perusing the only two yearbooks I own, from my 7th and 8th grade years. Inside the latter, this classmate wrote some very lovely and encouraging words, including this:
I'm really glad I got to know you, you are intelligent, nice and very heartful. Believe me Travis you will be very successful in life.
I can forgive her for using the non-word, "heartful." I would love to find her online so I can let her know that I have made good on my promise from two decades ago, and to thank her for believing in me so many years before I was willing to contemplate believing in myself.

I've been haunted the last few days by a line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, delivered by Jeff Corey as Sheriff Bledsoe:
"It's over! Don't you get that? Your times is over, and you're gonna die. Bloody. And all you can do is choose where."
I feel like that's directed at me, personally. My glory days are behind me (not that they were ever particularly glorious) and all that's left is for me to accept a dissatisfying existence as what's left for me in life. I don't want to have to accept a miserable, lonely life in dubious health and poverty. No one should be asked to just live that way. That's exactly what's in front of me. The endgame is no different whether I live through just the weekend or another fifty years. I can't make the kinds of important changes that my life needs without a lot of things that are outside my power changing. I can't cure Crohn's disease. Where does that leave me? Choosing where to die?

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