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Ten years ago:

Every trip outside of the house confronted me with static and confusion. Work had become this sea of promises that were always off on the horizon, never coming closer than a pep talk or a vague idea. People on the bus simply became the background scenery as I went from one place to another, drab and vaguely unnoticed. I had this overwhelming feeling that I was never going to hack it out there in the real world. This had happened earlier in my stay, but I couldn't talk myself out of my shell this time.

My brother must have seen this change within me. He invited me over to his house more often, or took me with them when they would go see their friends. They were dorks of the same type that I am, but I always felt out of place among them. They would all go out to dinner, and I would tag along and sit and listen to the conversation. I'd go for game night and get lost in the intricacies of Settlers or Illuminati instead of letting my brain wander off into hyperspace. I'd come home happy that I had been out playing games, but then breaking down all of the things that I said in front of all of them.

Anxiety sucks, especially when you know what your brain is doing to you. Being able to create reasons for the freak out is part of the sport, and no amount of logic or deference ever makes the impact seem any less intense.

But that only happened with people that I knew, or might run into again. Strangers were easy to deal with, especially in contexts where I would never really have to deal with them ever again. Dealing with customers was easy in that respect, but made working with the high school part timers weird. I already knew that I was the weird one at the store, and had on many occasions highlighted this fact by doing or saying something inane or stupid in front of them. This went double for my boss, who I am sure treated my idiosyncrasies as a form of entertainment.

I feel like I am no better equipped to deal with this then I was in those days, and I'm not sure what that says about me. The only effective way I have found to overcome this issue is either by smoking or Xanax, and each has its own drawbacks from my perspective. I hate the way my brain forces these issues to appear on a regular basis, without also providing a means to defeat it.

 


 

I must have said something that scared the New York kids on one of our little phone chats. I don't remember what it was, but it would have been some example of the way the world seemed to be stagnant and scary. I had done this to them before when I had to leave Horseheads in such a hurry, but this time I wasn't so desperate or full of panic. Either way, the kids are perceptive about changes in my demeanor, and they knew from past experience that this wasn't a good place for me to dwell for too long.

The kids describe me then as angry and stressed, and I think that is probably correct. I didn't think of myself as angry then, but I didn't have a very long fuse if I became frustrated. Even when they pointed this out to me, I wasn't able to completely understand how they saw that within me. I must have been blind to it, or considered it such a fundamental part of the way I existed in the world that I didn't get that I was on one extreme of that spectrum. But they always have been more perceptive than I am, and that is part of the reason they play such a critical role in my life.

The kids were in the process of moving away from Cortland, now that the semester was over and neither of them would be able to keep going to college anymore. They had just settled on moving to Syracuse instead of Ithaca, and had lined up a massive apartment for minimal rent. Despite the debt I had saddled them with when I left them in Cortland, they were still very worried about me. Although they didn't tell me this at the time, they had chosen this apartment because it had an extra bedroom that I could take once I finally broke down.

They very kindly insisted that I move back to New York.

The truth is I was tired of Michigan. I was tired of the mess I was making of my life, and the way that work both strung me along and limited me at the same time. I was tired of staring at the wall waiting for something to happen. I was tired of living in a place that would never truly feel like home. I knew that all of that would change if I could bring myself to walk away from this experiment.

I told them them that I would consider it, knowing inside that I would say yes sooner or later. I didn't even make it eight hours before I called them back. I told them that I would start closing things down in Michigan, and try and move out there by the end of June.

 


 

News of my decision was met with exactly the level of non-surprise that I expected. I suppose everyone had been expecting me to do this at some point.

My brother shrugged his shoulders and said it would be weird not having me around as much anymore. I can't imagine that this was a giant surprise to him, as I had done nearly exactly the same thing two years before. I wonder now if he was somehow disappointed that I wasn't able to take to the place the way he had so many years before.

My boss at work was disappointed, but said that he mostly understood where I was coming from. I sympathized with his position: he was down an assistant manager, as well as someone that he absolutely trusted to take care of the store when he wasn't around. The part time kids were largely indifferent to the situation, as I'm sure I would have been were I in their position.

The girls in Syracuse were happy that I was coming back, but it was also going to add fuel to what was already a fucked-up situation. Even from several hundred miles away I was a disruption to the way their lives had been working to that point, and having me once again become an actual presence in their house probably wasn't going to help. They were kind enough to not vocalize this as I told them about my decision, and instead talked about how nice it would be to actually have me in the same city where they were.

I didn't tell my parents then, but it was mostly due to oversight. I didn't see where it was all that important to them where I was living. But I did decide that I would go go visit my grandfather shortly after I moved back, so they would probably figure it out when I was suddenly sleeping on their couch.

And I was happy about this feeling that I was going to get back to living my life instead of feeling like I had put myself in some storage locker for a few months. Even as a concept, I started noticing little improvements in everyday life. It was like a little black cloud was breaking over my head finally.

 

Notes on a life in exile: A retrospective
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