I was 21 years old when I moved to Los Angeles and I believed I had the world at my fingertips. It didn’t matter that I moved down with a couple of friends with one unreliable car between us, or that none of us had jobs lined up or a place to live, that none of us knew anyone in a city of almost 4 million people, that none of us had a ton of money lined up. I believed I could work it out, and I did, for a lot longer than I had any right to. I had dreams of success, of being some kind of actor/writer phenom. Instead, I was taking $20-30 and using it buy two weeks worth of canned food from the dollar store.
I fell in love down there, deeply. I was too scared to say it first. She let it slip one night, sitting on a pool table in a bar whose name I can’t remember and we paused for a moment. I asked her if she meant it. She said she did, and maybe she lied or maybe she thought she did at the time, or maybe she really did, but whatever the case, that “Yeah” opened the floodgates for me. This woman took me in for the holidays. Both of my friends moved away and I was alone in L.A. with my job, my co-worker friends and this woman I adored.
We weren’t great for each other sometimes. We were perfect for each other other times. I didn’t realize at the time that I had emotional and mental issues that would roll through me like waves and because of that, I didn’t know how to prepare or cope with it. I got angry easily, spiteful, distrusting. I stressed and overthought everything. I was scared and far from home with hardly any money, no car, and the beautiful woman I was with that dudes often hit on right in front of me… I panicked.
And she wasn’t emotionally there all the time. I don’t think she would even understand how to deal with some of the things I was going through. I went into that relationship with a lot of baggage neither of us knew about and we handled it and communication with each other poorly a lot of the time. Goddammit if we didn’t stick up for and support each other a lot of the time, too. There was love there, but I wasn’t prepared to handle it properly.
I broke up with her to focus on me and fix my financial woes by coming back to Alaska for four months. I was trying to give us distance. What it did was hurt her and render our relationship unreconcilable. Because I was so desperate to fix things and get her back, I gradually lost my mind and found ways to sabotage everything. I lost my job, all of my money, I had to move from the place I lived, from the whole state. I lost a lot of close friends who, to this day, have not spoken to me since. And of course I lost her and her respect.
Deservedly. I committed a crime at work, unrelated to everyone and totally self-serving. I got caught, I admitted everything immediately, I paid back more than double the value of what I took, and I lost everything in return and I was fine with that. I own my mistakes. Whatever disorders I’m diagnosed with don’t give me a free pass to act like an asshole. Nobody was more pissed off or hated me for betraying their trust or throwing the life I was building away more than I hated myself.
So I moved to Seattle at the lowest point in my life I had ever been, and this one situation kept playing out in my mind. See, my girlfriend was going to college for social work, which is amazing and noble as all hell. College wasn’t in my future. I was a hair’s breadth away from going to Reno for a while, to be a History or an English teacher, but ultimately I wanted to MAKE IT. I was going to be a star, a famous actor or a famous poet or a famous novelist. And one night – I can’t recall if we were drunk, or arguing, or both – she told me that she didn’t believe that if I never went to college that I could ever be somebody. That I was basically destined to fail at life.
And I fucked my life up! Like, not even half a year after that, I lost my goddamn mind and I ruined everything I possibly could, doing things I would never normally do, acting in ways that would normally horrify me. I spent a year of literal blood, sweat and tears building up something great and with so much promise, and I shit on it.
So I’m in Seattle with almost nothing to my name. Starting from scratch again. Heartbroken, ashamed, self-loathing and again in a large city in which I knew four people. I felt hopeless, both in that I had no hope and that there was no hope for me to rise up from the ashes, or whatever. Then I took a trip up to Alaska to see my best friend’s newborn baby, and while I was up there, I met someone who would change my life.
When I returned to Seattle, I began to pursue writing seriously. I was going to write a novel and it was going to be good. It was going to sell. I was going to show my ex that I could be somebody on my own merit and that I, personally, didn’t need to spend $60,000 for someone to tell me how to string words together in an exciting fashion.
I wrote that motherfucker in six months. I’ve never worked harder and more consistently on something before or since, and when I self-published it, it got good reviews. People loved to read it. I pumped out new installments as fast as I could because people wanted to talk to me about. People were excited about it.
Cut to five years later. My books still sell here and there. They don’t pay my bills. They haven’t taken off. I work a job I hate to pay for a life I kind of shuffle through. I’m not where I want to be. My goals are still high. I’m not rich. My books aren’t on shelves. I don’t have a publishing deal. I can pack my life up into the same two suitcases I took with me to Los Angeles six years ago.
I never went to college and I haven’t – to my standards – become somebody.
Then I had a really, really weird day.
It started with me waking up from a nightmare, one of those hyper-realistic ones you could swear actually happened, where I was at some pool party (complete with DJ, natch) and I ran into a woman I was deeply in love – I fall in love a lot; it’s a mess – and the guy she left me for when my grandfather passed. Now, I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in at least a year, and she hadn’t been with him for even longer than that. The event had happened three years previous and she had left me with barely a word or a bat of the eye. Due to how realistic the dream was, though, I woke up feeling crushed all over again.
Two hours later, out of nowhere, she messages me. We have a conversation that started off tense because honestly, it gave me anxiety to even hear from her, but gradually it grew into an honest discussion about how hurt I was and what she was going through back then and it struck me that she basically did what I had done. And then she apologized profusely to me, the only thing I really needed to hear to finally, finally get closure and find solid ground with her again. We agreed distance was still probably best for the foreseeable future, but that if either of us needed someone to reach out to, we could always, now, again, finally, reach out to each other.
That was a weight, man. Three years of grief and hurt alleviated with an “I’m so sorry.”
And then two hours after that, my ex from Los Angeles messaged me. I haven’t spoken to her in five years, outside of a message about some stuff I left behind or a Happy Hanukkah. She tells me she’s thought long and hard about it, and would understand if I said no, but she wanted help writing something that would help her get into a college program she needed.
The first thing I thought was that it was fucking hilarious. Now my writing is good enough? Now you trust that I know enough about this thing I sort of assed myself into doing?
But I said “Absolutely. Of course I’ll help you.” I’m proud of her. I still have so much love and gratitude for the things she did for me and the great moments we did have. I want to do whatever I can to help her get where she wants to be. I had spent years trying to find a way to be friends with her again that I felt she would accept or that I deserved, so it meant a lot to me that she would reach out. We talked a little over Thanksgiving, because it was six years ago from then that I went to her home for the first time and met her family, and it was immediately after that we decided to date. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “We had so much fun.”
Yeah. We did.
I’ve been feeling a little heartbroken lately, so I’ve gone back to drinking a little too much and bleeding my emotions out a little too dramatically and clinging to someone I desperately wanted to work towards a potential future with, so yesterday morning, I woke up, still drunk from a bad Sunday night, and called that person and told them I wanted them to have a safe trip to Japan. She flew out today. I’m hoping that’ll keep me from texting her in the wee hours of the morning compliments she’s probably tired of hearing. We didn’t talk long, probably for the best, and she told me to try and get some more sleep before I had to go into work.
I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t coming to me, so in the fading haze of intoxication, I decided I finally, genuinely needed to be honest about something. I messaged my ex.
I told her about finally going in this year and being diagnosed with a few disorders that made me feel things erratically and severely and how for a long time, I had just assumed I would occasionally get fed up with things and I would lash out. I told her that six years ago, I fell in love with her and her family for what they gave me and that when she reached out to me, I didn’t do it out of a delusion that we’d get back together or out of infatuation, but because I still cared and wanted to help. But I wanted her to know something.
“If you never go to college, I don’t believe you’ll ever be somebody.” To hear that from someone whose opinion I cared so much about and whose affection and acceptance I craved more than anything during a time where I was broke and had nothing and hardly anyone else… it broke me. And when I didn’t go and when I fucked so many things up, I just kept telling myself, “Maybe she was right. Maybe I won’t be.”
And as I was typing this out to her, to let her know that one sentence has been this haunting, horrible weight on me for so long, something finally clicked in my head…
I’ve spent six years trying to be somebody because I thought she thought I couldn’t be, when I should have been doing it because I thought I could be. When I first moved down, I thought I could do anything. When it became increasingly difficult and I became increasingly emotional, I began to have doubts. When she said that to me, I stopped believing in myself entirely.
I was trying to prove her wrong these last years. I wasn’t trying to prove to myself that I was always right about what I was capable of.
She wrote back to me, aghast. She apologized profusely and told me she hoped I could forgive her words. “When I get angry, I try to hurt whoever I think is hurting me.” She told me she had never thought I was lesser, that she was proud of me when she found I had written books, and a few other complimentary things. “Why do you think I’d even consider you to read my personal statement? Because if anyone knew… it would be you.”
The world is yours if you want it. Not because someone said you can’t have it. I lost sight of that a long time ago, and I’ve felt like a shadow of myself since.
Fourteen hours later, I realized something else: I’ve been insecure about my writing because I feel like a fraud when I do it. Kerouac, Hemingway, Bukowski, Thompson… they wrote about love, life, loss, lust, pain and so much else with authority. Love is this. Heartbreak is that. They wrote with conviction and years later, their quotes are passed around social media and hung up on walls and in offices because the things they wrote resonate with people.
But there was always something holding me back. I think it’s because when I posted it on Facebook, my friends would take the piss out of it. They would see me as being over emotional or narcissistic or dramatic. Who the fuck am I to put myself in the footsteps of those men? Who the fuck am I to know what life is supposed to be about? What it is? When people have known me for years, they’ve created an image of who I am, and I’m no authority on anything to them.
In the same way that someone who tells a few jokes every other week on a stage wouldn’t consider themselves a comedian, I felt like writing a few poems, a few introspective posts, it didn’t make me a writer.
But why not? I remember the fucking mountain of private messages I got after my post about having been raped. I remember the messages I got when I wrote about being suicidally depressed. The people who have shared my poems. The people who knew my family members and reached out to tell me what I wrote meant to them, or because it reminded them of their own families. I remember the messages from people who were dealing with loss, or heartbreak, or budding love.
You know what I remembered? Finally remembered? I’m not fucking writing for people who don’t see me as a writer. I’m writing to put how I see and feel things out there for people to know they aren’t alone in their feelings. I’m doing it to reach out to others the way the writing greats once reached and continue to reach out to me.
If nobody else will say it, I’m going to. I have a voice that I’ve kept hushed and shyly uttered for too long. And frankly? I’m not good at anything else, except for eating and occasionally sex if their standards are low, so I better get goddamn good at this.
I need to do this because I believe I can. And I’m starting to again.