I feel like the overdue library book, silently accruing fees until a stone-faced government employee demands thousands. Or I feel like I had once again been called into the counselor’s office, being intensely questioned over an errant, laughing remark at a lunch six months ago that included the words “school” and “fire”, picked up by a few paranoid girls, convinced that a metal detector would stop al-Qaeda from flying planes into their two-story high school. I feel like the CIA is looking up all my information for typing the words “al-Qaeda” into Google to find the correct spelling. Right now, my life is good. Too good.
I became used to telling friends “Oh, no, my grandparents are all alive.” Three years ago, I couldn’t say that any more. He went and died on me while I was too busy being sick and skipping work. The last time I saw him, he had dropped an enormous amount of weight. He called me into the den to give me some keepsake, because he knew he was dying, and I knew he was dying but I wasn’t so eager to state it. The trinket is a small, wooden carving, no larger than your typical Lego, of a boy playing with his dog. I believe he stated it was from Holland. Holland? Somewhere around there. He and his wife had been travelers. But that carving, so relatively unimportant that I had never noticed it in the house, was what he decided to give. It was nothing fancy, though a homespun fanciness is exactly what I’ve come to know him for. That’s the one keepsake he left me with, directly. I’m still not sure what to do with it, but it sits on top of my DVD shelf. That feels ridiculous. The toy needs an empty glass case all its own, but I’m not spending that much money. He told me to just use it to remember him. The toy isn’t a stack of money, it’s not a plot of land, it’s not a valuable piece of furniture. It’s a nothing representing a something that was really a nothing. Some people don’t have trinkets. I went twenty years saying “Oh, no, my grandparents are all alive,” and I can’t say that any more. I can say “Oh, yes, well, I have this trinket.” That knocks me off my high horse. That makes me stop feeling so special. That reminds me I exist in this world where grandparents don’t live to see great-grandchildren.
I knew a kid in middle school who had a dare to get a girlfriend by the end of the day, and he did. He just walked up to her at her locker and got her to say “yes.” It might have lasted only a couple of days. They probably didn’t even do anything. Even in my most misogynistic thirteen year-old state, I knew I wanted anything more substantial. I would always be too romantic or too distant, and it didn’t help that, like a lot of teenage guys, life was more “fish in the sea” than loyal friendship. Some girls would hit on me and I wouldn’t notice because my mind was past the being-hit-on stage and at the living-together-in-an-apartment one. Sometimes I would try to pick up the crushing girl’s best friend. One time, my own grandmother had to tell myself and two of my friends that those girls at the beach weren’t just getting closer to our bogey-boarding idiocy because of ocean currents. When I caved, when I kissed, life moved as briskly as I had imagined. With it came chaos. Those years those high school boys spent moving from one woman to another, as unsympathetic though the actions may have been, at least prepared them for understanding others. I didn’t go nineteen years without a significant other because I was “prepared” or “substantial”, but because I was awkward and incorrectly self-righteous. When everyone else tried to figure their lives out in how they relate to others, I kept to myself. It helped as much as it hindered. The chickens came home to roost.
I’ve fainted at the sight of grisly, medically-detailed gore. I don’t have the stomach for walking into a room where my mom has Discovery Health on the TV. The only real wounds I’ve received have been entirely self-inflicted. I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve never had surgery (outside of wisdom teeth removal, of course.) I’ve gone to the nurse for what feel like torn muscles but are really the results of sleeping funny. But my friend…my friend breaks his back. He floats in the water till his own family has to drag him out. We don’t get that equal share. He doesn’t break a pinky while I break a big toe, he shatters his spine while I get bothered by an itchy butt. My friends go to the hospital for surgery and I’m the one letting them borrow my Star Wars VHS tapes. I was in the hospital when I was born. I can be in the hospital when I want to be. While tubing behind a boat, a cord came flying my direction and struck the very spot below my neck. If it were an inch higher, I would have been decapitated. But now I have a badass scar for no other reason than “God’s good grace”, while my friend has to learn how to walk for the second time. I feel as if the chickens will be coming home to roost.
When I think about your basic Biology 150 course’s description of intrinsic controls, I think of war. We talk about territoriality in wolves, but not people. We say that deer, when uncontrolled, destroy their own food supply, but people do the same thing. You talk about intrinsic controls for survival and I think of The Road. I’m increasingly convinced that war is natural. Or that destroying the environment is more natural than the environment itself. Ants do it, and it’s natural. People do it, and they’re monsters. When you externalize evil, when you say it’s a thing other people do but you don’t do, you’re shooting a gun up into the air and believing gravity won’t bring the bullet back to the ground. Ward Churchill is a stupid ass, but he’s not necessarily wrong. Life isn’t fair, we say when we try to get away with some awful stunt. Maybe life isn’t fair, but I’m inclined to wonder if it really is. I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe that my life has to be fairly unnatural for me to go so long without physical or emotional pain. I need to pass classes within an inch of my life, I need to experience unrequited love, I need Kenta Kobashi to chop my chest until it bleeds because I don’t seem to be getting enough of nature’s true force and that makes me feel left out. You don’t go to war because you’re defending anything or anybody. You go because you’re bored and your body needs to make some excitement. You don’t fly planes into buildings because it sets a moral standard, you’re just itching for entertainment. You don’t give trinkets to your grandson because you believe your name and memory will last millennia, but you want someone right here to understand emotion right now.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. My soft bones have to break someday, right? My drug-free, alcohol-free lifestyle has to give me cancer someday, right? I have two more grandparents than some people do. I have twelve fewer breakups than some people do. I’ve been enlisted in less wars, been subject to less murder and rape, been able to afford food in the packed grocery stores, and I’ve faced significantly less parental nagging. But I worry every time I’m reminded of the greater world that exists outside my purview. Somebody has a heart attack on live television and I suddenly remember that’s a thing that can happen to me, to anyone I love. You fall down some terrible rabbit hole of watching air show accident footage on the internet and suddenly recall all the air shows you went to yourself, and you start questioning how they went versus how you’re going to go. Your friend breaks his back and you wonder why you’ve never broke anything. We should’ve split it. You could argue I’ve already had problems, but they are so internalized that they don’t feel real.
I like nature, when I get out in it, but I’m not sure I want mankind’s interpretation of nature. Cannibalism is “natural” when a man is pushed far enough. Perhaps we should view ourselves not as beings tainted by the stench of death, but creatures who embody that stench ourselves. Make it our goal to quell that intrinsic control, and find another way to deal with these problems. Find another way to make sure idiots don’t shoot at each other for shooting at each other, another way for bones to be stronger and another way for loved ones to stay alive. My life is good. Too good. I want everyone else to have too good a life, too. Give up on every silly notion of vengeance, even if we believe it justified. Stop protesting others and protest yourself. I do this, and they do this because of it, and I do it again. “The world eats your wife. Eats your friends. Eats all the things that make you human.” Sometimes, nature is the enemy. And I’ve always wanted to be a perfectly-realized character in a book: your Captain America or Jesus Christ or Lloyd Dobler. Don’t let the chickens come home to roost.