Heading out to climb. I climbed three times yesterday, three times the day before. I completed a short story this morning called "Drivel in Wormwood," which was excellent. Powerful and shattering and perhaps affirmative, depending upon who you might be, I suppose. It's the ugliness and the beauty that can exist at once in a person. A purely human work. Once again, a female narrator. A twenty-six-year-old grad student. I am not going to put up an excerpt of that here, though, at the moment, but rather another from the essay on moving, as I have also worked on that piece today. I don't want to give too much of the work away for free, so this will be the last of it, but it's going to be a pretty long piece in the end, so this is fine to share as a tease. I am writing at a high level.
We had moved to Connecticut on account of my father’s job. He had been reassigned at his company, and was told that if he made this move, he wouldn’t have to undertake any other moves in the future.
I was a huge baseball card collector—have always viewed baseball cards as a form of pictorial art, long into adulthood—and I recall we took a trip to Boston shortly before we moved. I used to love going to the big Barnes and Noble at Downtown Crossing where I’d later work, when I hid the Danielle Steel books. There was this enormous book there, it must have been five inches high when you laid it on its back, that had a photo of every Topps baseball card ever made between 1951 and 1985. I had asked my parents for it many times, but now they bought it for me, a sort of softening-the-moving-blow gift, that softened, as one would assume, absolutely nothing at all.
Connecticut was a challenge, but it turned out to be a fairly abbreviated one. My sister Kara will not be offended by this, I don’t think, but she found her way, helped no doubt by how young she was but by also being a middle-of-the-pack person. Not especially complicated, not especially simple, not filled with torrents of passion, the “in-theory” person I think of when someone says those off-putting, somewhat passive aggressive phrases you see on dating sites like, “I’m normal and I hope you are, too.”
The people who dispense such a statement are rarely normal, in the well-adjusted sense. That’s just how they self-identify. But if someone was out there along those lines of what we expect by “normal,” truly, and not in a bad way, it would be my sister. No dummy, but also unaware of what she does not know, then, now, always. I would wager. Smarter than most, but not so smart as to be challenged to find companions, friends.
Kerrin, meanwhile, did not fare well. We’re talking a while ago, when less was known about the mental and behavioral problems that can plague us; anxiety, bipolarity, depression. She was someone who was picked on, but large-hearted to a degree that she’d turn around and do something nice for one of her tormentors. Later on she would lie, which aggrieved my father, during what turned out to be the time he had left, to no end, but she didn’t do cruelty. Not calculating cruelty. When you are picked on in that fashion, and your first inclination is to give, to bring forth kindness, you’re often someone who imagines that you’re being picked on even when you are not. You’re conditioned to it. You go into a bathroom, two people giggle as you enter, you assume they are talking about you, so you put your head down, walk past them, do what you have to do, feeling embarrassed, feeling shame, wondering what you did wrong this time. The toll is massive, over time.
My existence was two-part: I played hockey, at an even higher level than before, and I wrote. I read, I absorbed all of the music I could, but all of that was part of writing for me. I learned everything there had ever been to learn about the Beatles. By the time I was in high school, a typical Monday consisted of being up before school for hockey practice, going to classes, hanging with the three or four friends I had. It was never more. I’d get picked on a lot, which might seem odd. I was a dominant athlete, one of the best hockey players in the state, not the sort who usually gets teased and mocked. But I was an unlikely blend.
As much as I excelled at hockey, I was smarter. That was really my thing. The knowledge, the writing, the subjects I knew so much about, and was adding to daily adding. On those Mondays, and on most days, I’d stay after school, though there was no need, to get better at learning, to spend more time, be it with a science teacher who would show me extra experiments, or an English teacher who would sit eyeball to eyeball with me, going over Shakespeare, taking apart the plays, the language, the structuring.
A lot of kids liked me, respected me, but they didn’t want to be my friend. A lot of kids were intimidated by me, because I was smarter and they also couldn’t classify me. You think, at the time, that’s a huge component of high school, and it is—but it’s a far bigger component, you learn later, of adult life. People want to give you a single box at the shoe store—I was the shoe store. And I was just getting started. I was funny, my mind and my words quick, and though my humor was not your standard, broad, high school fare, everyone always got the jokes, the asides, the tart lines, the wit. A lot of people laughed, but I was miserable.
I had a best friend, and we were tight. I still know him, albeit from afar. We don’t do a good job of staying in touch, though I admire the hell out of him, how much he’s grown, the man he became.
He’s a firefighter in Danbury, Connecticut now, one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. Good-at-life smart, in that most people pretend to know what matters, few do, and fewer still do know what matters and thrive, are not ballasted to the bottom of an abyss. The knowledge is heavy, countervailing so much that is around you is daunting, but that’s what you’re tasked with doing, and my ersatz friend does this quite well.
He’s also a romantic. We’ve really only had one phone conversation in these many years since we spent a lot of time together. It was in 2013. My life had fallen apart by that point, not that it had been going well. I had a wife who left, no forewarning, no voiced concern that we were not working. We’d just bought a house. She took it, sold it. She took everything. I am never pleased with myself when I mention her departure, her betrayal—turns out she was with someone else—because a lot of worse things have happened since, due to the nature of the business I am in, and you think, should I be mentioning this a different way? You think of how you can leave it out, but it’s hard to leave out, because that one hole in your narrative makes three dozen others. Holes beget holes.
I always called my friend by his last name, Schiller. I don’t think he ever called me Colin. A bit like Holmes and Watson, only our deductive reasoning focused on human byplay at the emotional level, not the criminal one, though I suppose there is overlap. A woman named Alexandra had reached out to me, having read my work. She lived in LA, where she ran a business I thought of as scam-y—and needless—where wealthy parents paid her lots of money to work with their kids for years—it was mind-boggling—to help them get into their preferred schools, which, of course, means absolutely nothing in this life. But she was smart, she was well-read.
She flipped out if you called her Alex, never mind that her full name was rather a mouthful, but the salient issue for someone else would have been distance, but I knew that connection was rare, the world smaller than ever, and I understood the flexibility of geography better than most—or, better than most of the friends I had over the years.
I called Schiller when she was flying to Boston to see me, to get his take. He was a romantic, and that had served him well. I remember him telling me on the phone about how low he had been at various points of life, relaying stories in his colorful way. “I was so ashamed of myself, I’d be having sex with someone and I couldn’t even cum, and I’d go home and like cry.”
Schiller went to a wedding once. He sees the bride-to-be, turns to his buddy at the wedding, and says, “I’m going to marry that woman.” Keep in mind that Schiller, at this wedding, is not the husband-to-be. He’s a guest. He’s probably wolfing down Goldfish crackers and having a beer as he says this. His buddy, of course, assumes Schiller is crazy.
Now hop a few years into the future. That bride-to-be who became that bride-who-was, has a tough marriage, gets divorced. Who do you think she falls in love with and marries subsequently? That’s right—Schiller. As for Alex, she ended up in a mental institution, got out, renounced love and consequential human interaction, took more money from more rich parents, and our narrative leaves here doing the same, still in LA. My point is that somewhere in Connecticut, after moving, I began to see friendship differently, as a potential force that made proximity not irrelevant—you want to be in the same place, having wonderful days together—but not the ne plus ultra of relationship gauging; in fact, proximity can be obfuscating.
When you understand friendship in this way (and it is friendship that underpins anything emotionally, connectively real, including the most radiant romantic, passionate love, with flowers in the morning and sodomy in the afternoon, and also the relationship between written work of art and reader), you begin to grasp the difference between connection and activity.
A lot of people are glorified activity partners, whether they’re friends, partners, husband and wife, wife and wife, husband and husband, whatever label they prefer. Take away the shared geography, they’re not left with much to go on. I knew, early, in my first couple of years of high school, that would never be enough for me. I probably knew before then, on some plane of my being; but that was when I could have consciously told you how it stood.
There is a saying that the elderly, above all, like to use: You can’t take it with you. Ah, but you can, you do—our external loves become internally printed upon us. Stamped. Woven into. Threaded through. When an external love is great enough, real enough, that such threading transpires, we know that these are the people, the things—and yes, it can be a thing; a beloved film, a record that changed us, mom’s favorite broach she left us—we must move towards, or back towards.
When we cannot—which is sometimes just a reality of life, even of moving—we must remember and we must reapply. Elsewhere, if need be. Let me put it this way: Life will chafe the hell out of you, abrade you down to your bones. In spurts and spells. Sometimes. I associate the wearing away with dryness, coarseness, rough fibers. But in moving, as I would learn in other matters, even as pain and loss and alienation mounted, there is a kind of internal superfluidity that you need to be able to both adjust and keep searching. You are taking so much with you—and it needs to have max utility. That’s ultimately how you’re going to be happy, if you’re going to be happy. Right place and right time go a long way, of course, but they will count for nothing, you might slide past them, without your internal superfluidity. Schiller never moved anywhere in his life, but he had internal superfluidity. He wouldn’t have married that woman without it.