"NATHAN!!!," my littlest sister yelled as I walked in the door at my parents' home. She ran up to me to give me a hug then stopped short, "Why did you have to bring your ugly dogs? So gross!" Rejected. She turned and walked back into the living room where she continued watching her favorite Disney Channel production Suite Life on Deck, a banal production with over-directed overly ambitious fat kids that really can't act.
"You know they go with me everywhere I go. They're like my kids." I replied, not expecting much of a response or understanding for that matter.
With half a homemade M&M cookie in her mouth she unashamedly groaned, "Why don't you get married and have real kids." She's seven going on a very bitchy 25. I can't tell you how many times I've walked in the door of this house and felt like turning around and walking back the other direction. My mother came up the stairs from the laundry room and stopped me from turning around.
"Oh, hi Nathan." She smiled. She always has had one of the most radiant smiles. She has one of those bright faces that seems to just light up any conversation. The smile is just a muscular response but there is something so much more to her. She glows. So, like a desperate insect I am drawn to the light and I stay.
"How are you?" she asks genuinely.
"Bleh..." I'm really not doing all that great. But I resist unloading everything on her as soon as I walk in.
The question prompted me to reflect.
How am I really?
As a child I was a dreamer. I dreamed of the life that I would live and the achievements that I would breeze through. I was bright beyond my years and adventurous. I was dedicated to a certain point but so much came easily to me. I never found myself striving too hard for anything. It simply happened because I was good at it. I can remember one of my first major rejections. It destroyed me. I was a junior in high school. Our campus the year previous had converted over to a performing arts magnet school and in my mind I was the star of the vocal and theatre departments.
I had looked forward to auditioning for the spring production of Oklahoma since it had been announced at the end of the last season. I was sure that I was going to open each night's performance singing "Oh what a beautiful morning," in my brightest, strongest tenor voice. I aced the audition process and felt that I was clearly the best choice for the role. When the final cast list was posted I was not listed as Curly, the lead male role. I wasn't listed as Will Parker, the comedy relief, or even as Jud Fry, the villain. I was listed as farmer number one and Dream Curly. Instantly anger welled up inside me. I stormed out of the black box at the back of the theatre.
I ran off campus in tears. I was destined to play Curly, I thought. The role fit my personality. I was the best voice they had. Or so I thought. I vowed that I wouldn't perform in the production and they'd have to find someone else to take on the bit part. When push came to shove I couldn't bear not being involved. I caved and agreed to play the role but made it known that I wasn't happy, not in the least. As rehearsals moved along I came to realize how much harder I had to work at being the Ballet Dancer, Dream Curly. I was thrown, I was lifting, I was doing things that came naturally to me but required constant work and persistence. I was sweating and leaping my way to understanding the importance of hard work and humility. It was the first of many lessons that I learned on this ever important principle. I had to be sure that I was at each rehearsal or I would miss something that I just wouldn't be able to make up at any other time. I worked so hard for that production and when the final curtain call came I was proud to take my bow as Dream Curly. This was a role that I had earned and not one that I had fallen into simply because of what I did naturally.
Life has not been so generous to me over the past seven years. I haven't worked so hard at something. I have reverted back to that sense of entitlement. I have walked proudly, with my shoulders held back as if to say, "I'm best at this and should be where you are." I haven't put in an exceptional amount of effort at getting what I want. I have survived by getting what I barely need.
My grandfather was a simple man. He grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Many of my peers have the same story to tell. My grandfather is from the greatest generation. He once told me, "Nothing worth doing is worth doing unless you do your best. And to do your best you better love what you're doing."
"No, I'm sorry," I said with frustration lingering on my tone. "I just don't think that eating the entire package of cookies would be the best idea for your diet plan."
Randy pinched his face together then starred off to some distant place as if to find strength in the imaginary glances of Jared and Johnny, his fictional step sons from an invented marriage that really never happened. Randy continued his silent conversation with the young men, now angels. He mouthed his objections then internalized their words of comfort and rationale for following my direction. He nodded approvingly though with an air of disgust in his acquiescence to the less desirable outcome.
I stood patiently between Randy and the package of double stuffed Oreos. In my mind I envisioned my own reaction if I were in Randy's shoes. Needless to say I wouldn't be please.
Randy was trying to loose weight so he could avoid the devastating effects of a lifetime with diabetes. I have been working with Randy now for nearly eight months. in the three months that we've been targeting his weight issue he's lost nearly 30 pounds. In that same period of time I should have lost at least the same but rather I've gained about twelve pounds.
I'm good at my job. I understand the needs of the developmentally disabled and I have some kind of sixth sense when it comes to the guys I'm working with at the moment. All of the mothers sing their praises. They can't believe how independent their sons have become. They are so impressed with the progress that we're making. My supervisor, a master social worker three years younger than me thinks that I'm doing great things but always seems to have something else that he has to take on and another responsibility that I don't have to worry about. I work random long hours but I get to take my dogs to work with me. I hate my job.
I give and give so much during the day. I plan and make schedules and help with healthy meals and cleaning house that all this effort seems to be donated to the cause. No wonder the houses of so many in social services are just gross. No wonder so many in social serves are just a wreck outside of work. They have spent a lifetime giving that lifeblood to their clients and those that can't do it for themselves that their own lives suffer immensely. Is this going to be my fate?
In my room there are maps of the entire world and a couple brightly colored globes dotted with the names of places I long to see. I love to travel. I adore learning of other cultures and languages. I thrive on blending into a culture in a way that would fool even a native. I have lived in Europe and Africa and traveled all over the US. Rarely have I ever been found out. Rarely have I ever been identified as the silly little queer boy from small town California. I am good at taking on the camouflage of language and cultural idioms. I excel at playing the role of a young french student, a New Yorker, a Los Angeleno, a Parisian, a Peace Corps Worker, a Londoner. I feel that melting into the recipe of your everyday family anywhere in the world, fitting into the menu plan of their daily life would suite me best. Like a dash of salt I feel that I could make my way into any flavor of a national platter be it Thai or Persian, Kenyan or Inuit, Japanese or Dutch. I could become a part of their world. I could walk with them and be a part of them. This is what I long to do. This I love.
What have I done? Who have I become? How am I really doing?
I have failed myself. Life has been too easy. I have grown weak and feeble as I have abandoned my passions to self-pity and defeat. Seven years ago the path that I had foreseen my life taking was drastically altered. I did nothing to resume the goals that I had set forth as an impressionable, visionary, dreamer of a young man.
Like Sisyphus I held myself up with the hubris of my own ability yet unlike him I have not pushed that giant stone to the top of every mountain day after day eternity after eternity, growing stronger year after year. Instead I watched that stone, my world, my dreams roll down to destruction and then I walked away and I haven't returned in seven years.
Life has been too easy. I get by. From day to day I do what is necessary and what is requisite. I slide from sunrise to sunset addicted to the ambient noise and distraction of the internet and television, consumption and eating. Avoiding literature, music, relationships, travel, art, history. My eyes glaze over as yet another year dawns and nothing more significant than another year has transpired in my life.
I have become comfortable with easy.
I hate my life... today. Tomorrow is another day.
I need to escape easy. I need to move beyond the day to day and set forth my expectations. I need to DREAM OUT LOUD! I need to see beyond today. I need to work hard. i need to find challenge and pain. I need to see glory in the difficulty and aspire to what i know is possible.
Dreams are nothing without action. I need to prepare myself each morning to take the biggest risk of my life. I need to plan for the unexpected and strive to live beyond my capacity and within my my means. I need to yearn to move beyond today and act within each moment as if it were my last. I need to wake each day with a sense of urgency and drive. I need to lie down each night exhausted by a day of doing, a day of crossing off yet another dream from my list of possibilities.
This is who I am. I will renew this vision each morning. I cannot forget. Everyday, every moment is a step forward. I will become that man. In the words of George Eliot, "It is never too late to become what you might have been."