Once upon I time I was a child, shocking but true. When I was a child I possessed fear. I guess I possessed some level of insight too, for it seems that fear should be impossible without understanding. Tornadoes scared me. Roller coasters scared me. Death scared me. Life scared me. Time scared me. Anger scared me. Pain scared me. My own sorrow scared me. I was an unhappy child. I gave up these fears sometime, and I gave up that unhappiness too. I’m not entirely sure when I let go of fear, I think I know when I let go of unhappiness.
It was a bitter medicine that I took, and it lead me down a dark path. There were times when I wanted to go back, I even tried once. But the way was lost to me in the darkness. You see one year back in highschool I cut out my heart, and put on a mask. I insisted myself with others, and smiled when they smiled, and laughed when they laughed and offered lies to their truths, at times I became cruel. It was exhausting, and terrible. I often felt like I was about to shatter, like the whole of my being was an eggshell, a fragile facade, but I wasn’t alone.
There were two moments, two realizations I remember having as a young child that seem to me profoundly relevant to this decision. The first was when I was about seven years old, in a store with my parents, and it occurred to me, that I could better get what I want by feigning sadness and letting them offer it to cheer me up, than I could by getting angry and demanding. The second was about the same age, when I first realized that to be thought of as smart all I need to do was know when to be silent. Never show effort in answering a question, keep contemplation silent. Never offer an answer that you’re not sure of. And never ask a question, trust that you even if you don’t understand, you will in time, someone is surely stupider than you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the answer so long as no one else finds out about it, but they will associate your failings with you more strongly than your successes. So began my lifelong descent into sophistry and manipulation. A conversation is a war, it is not always best to make a headlong charge. How we present ourselves, what we let our opponents know, letting them take momentum to thin out their lines and present a target. I was a manipulative child. Honestly, I still am.
For some years I continued in this fashion, the part of me that could be hurt, that felt pain and fear, it dried up and atrophied. People were at arms length, just the distance I wanted them. They weren’t true friends, but I wasn’t alone, my own thoughts were drowned out, and I while around them became something new. In those days I would find myself in the hours before sleep struck heavy with despair, I could only be me when I was alone, and I desperately didn’t want to be.
But time kept passing, and before long I was in college. Everything was new. The chains that held me back to the time before the mask were gone. I was washed clean. Who I was hadn’t changed, but I was free to become. So there in college I met new people, and tried on new masks. I was so free that it was itself unbearable. I had lost all firm footing. I knew I was wearing a mask, but I couldn’t remember what was under it. It tormented me this thought, I had made myself into a nothing, a shadow. I met a nice girl, she was bipolar or so it was thought at the time I think the diagnosis has since changed but we don’t keep in touch, we bonded once briefly over madness, in the hallway of a dorm, for only about two minutes, but it was important to me, I had been honest. I once tried to peel away the mask, but found myself only taking on an airs. I was imitating a hollow memory of who I was. In those days I would find myself in the hours before sleep surprised to find tears on my cheeks, I did not know why they were there, I could feel their presence but not their significance.
I studied philosophy and I studied physics. It is my physics degree that I use in my current position, but the philosophy probably helped me more. Donald Davidson more than anything rang true with me, that truth is neither objective nor subjective, that meaning lies in discourse in human interaction. A thought in the head is meaningless unless spoken, and once spoken it is by force of who we as humans are. We participate, in good and bad, in true and false, but we do not legislate them. We fight, to change but must accept that what is at this very moment is outside us. We have our own personal beliefs, but we are not islands and those beliefs did not come from a vacuum. We influence and we are influenced. We do not need ethical certainty, for we are a part of the ethical machine.
I had sunk lower, but no one knew. I wanted to recover what I had thrown away, pain. And so a self-destructive time started. I knew I had to escape from those overt scars though. So I took up smoking cigarettes. People still ask me to this day what a smart person informed person would start smoking. I didn’t give the answer.
I felt such anger at these times, though I was too walled off to act on it. Here began my envy of those with faith, it would be so wonderful to have a god to be angry with, but I had nothing, just the anger. In the dialogue of my own mind I always compared it to a catapult being fired without payload, the force has nowhere to go but into the frame itself, given enough time it will tear itself apart. Human beings made me so angry. Warehouse stores, great cavernous spaces with people in every aisle. Elevators made me dream homicidal dreams. I fantasized about snapping necks and breaking shins and stomping on them when their down. Of power and domination, and the human acts that descend from these—that forgive me, but I do not wish to speak of. Rage tore away at me, within my head I could feel it. There was a noiseless cacophony in my mind. It was pressing out, and the only way to escape it was with real noise, real thought drowning meaningless noise. I often desired to tear out my left eye, saying that was nothing in this world which merited seeing two-fold.
The rage never managed to get beyond my mind, I never so much as hinted at its presence, that made it the worse for me, but I am of course glad I did not.
I also remember at these times the feelings of unrealness, that I wasn’t connected to anything. The world felt like a facade it was stretched thing and hollow. A canvas, a painted backdrop. Corridors especially felt absurd and often presented me with a feeling of extending for infinity, meaningless, like an old cartoon where I could walk and walk and the scenery was just being reused.
I was so untethered.
The cycle of madness had been steady, constant for over a decade, perhaps nearly two. As it continued passing, is highs and its lows, I myself grew up with it. For the longest time I noticed only the low ebbs, but as I aged I became more self aware. The patterns of my existence played out in front of me. I began to understand myself, and my passions. I began to understand it all. You see the true madness of it is just how blind you are. In the brightest light you cannot remember what the darkness was, what it felt like and vice versa. The full weight of half my life was missing, unable for me to connect to. It’s like a song that you ache to remember but you know none of the words, you could not even hum a bar of it, you just know it somehow. There’s a sense of the abstract of it, like there’s some visceral feeling, a pre-conscious sound you’re trying to dig up. When you do hear that song again, it all at once comes flooding back and you know it all beginning to end.
The pattern was beginning to become clear, but the substance of it was still lost.
All the same it was beginning to fade, the weight of it was lifting somehow. Its odd, you know, they say, or at least a TV show once said and I find it interesting enough to believe, that people falsely diagnosed with a terminal disease, upon finding out the truth, miss it. They don’t feel relief. They’ve begun to identify with it. Its a battle they’re waging, a side they’re on, a piece of who they are. I was not truly terminally ill, at least by any but perhaps Kierkegaard’s reckoning, but all the same as it began to fade, and it faded slowly there was still a pang of loss. How’s that for irony? the identity of non-identity should be valued. It was madness, I guess.
And then one day about two years ago now, I was standing on my porch, when I felt it. First bubbling up from within as contentment, not euphoria, contentment. Then it crashed over me, inundated me, and yet it was welling up from within me. It filled me, and I knew that everything I had been had culminated to this person standing there now. The wave that crested over the sum of being was this: “I know who I am. And I don’t hate myself.”
I am still not a particularly nurturing person, I still have the walls around myself, a hyper-vigilance about how I present myself. I make no claims to love anyone, but I understand them, and I do not hate them. I have given up thinking of people as caricatures, as monsters, as fools, as saints.
Though in my title I have pretended to enlightenment, all I really mean by that is that I came out of the dark.