When we talk of starting over, we talk of clean slates, but life writes its history on each of us with indelible cruelty. We cannot erase the stories of how we tried and failed, or failed because we didn’t try. There is nothing clean about new beginnings.
The layers of my history, x-ed out and half-effaced, show through and muddy every new wrong idea of what I think I am. I am, at best, a palimpsest worn thin with revision.
When I look back I see remnants of my earliest stories, and of my child-self looking back at me wondering how and why I let him down.
I never recall saying that what I wanted to be when I grew up was starting an internship at 36.
But, here I am.
What would that little-boy-I-used-to-be have to say about how I got here? Would he say that I should have followed the rules and listened to the grown-ups and done all the stupid things I was told to do that reeked of bullshit even to his little nose? Or would he say the opposite: that in spite of all the middle fingers I kept in my back pocket, I folded and fell for the American Dream like so many suckers who believe that happiness is directly proportional to the length of your picket fence?
I’ll never know. I can’t hear him anymore. That little boy. He is too far removed by years and selves. As loud as he is, he’ll never be heard over all the resentment and self doubt that has collected between us.
For his sake, I’m glad that he‘s not here. He would have been sad to learn that I abandoned his love of science in high school because the chemistry teacher was cruel, and ended up as an actor because the drama teacher was kind. He would be sad to learn that I abandoned his desire to lead when I discovered that experience trumps ability one hundred percent of the time.
He would be happy to know how hard I’ve worked, and sad to hear how little I’ve been paid. He would be proud of the sacrifices I made when I became a father for the first time, and of my willingness to quit acting, return to school, certify as an EMT, and work night and swing shifts on an ambulance to stay home with my second child. He wouldn’t understand the gaping hole in my heart that led me back to the stage, or the deep and lasting regret I feel for giving up the thing that I gave up on art for. He wouldn’t understand the hopeless inadequacy I felt when the third child was born a month ago.
He wouldn’t understand how the weight of his blackness would grow (with America piled on top) until it became too heavy to carry with a smile into a room full of white people. And he would never understand how near the edge I had to be to throw myself at one last new beginning with the hope that maybe this would save me.
He would understand the sadness, but not the depression. He would understand the frustration, but not the despair. So I would try to explain to him how loud my mind had gotten, and how the only thing I had found to drown out my thoughts were the captured thoughts of other people vibrating in my head. How I worried that if I only ever listened, and didn’t put my own words into the world, that one day there would be nothing but echoes to hush my brain.
I hope that if he could, he would listen, and recognize his voice.