Dying Light?

This was written several years ago and does not necessarily reflect my current opinions.

It all started February 29, 2000, in a sense. I'm sure if I looked further back I could find roots earlier than that, but at this point my memory of earlier events is starting to fade, and I have to set a barrier somewhere. February 29, 2000 is a memorable place to set that barrier.

February 29, 2000, for those of you who don't know (which is probably most anyone who reads this page except me) is the day that I told Sherry how I felt about her. At the time, that feeling was an intense crush. I have felt these kinds of crushes for a long time, and I don't consider them to be anything special. In a way, telling Sherry at all was an act of weakness—I had been advised by everyone I asked not to do so, but I pretty much told them “I have to do this, because I can't tolerate not doing it”. Tolerating or not tolerating it was a choice, which is a fact I have since become painfully aware of. Nevertheless, at the time, that was my choice, and it was a choice made with some conviction.

Given that choice, I was well-advised to hold off until after my birthday (the 27th) and an exam that Sherry had to take. So, on the 29th, I asked Sherry to take a walk with me. I remember the weather as being exceptionally beautiful, although I freely admit that after a year and a half, I may be romanticizing. Sherry's reaction when I told her was that she was not ready for a relationship. At the time, I simply did not understand this. I had wanted someone since I was 10 years old. I couldn't conceive anything else beating out this need. I have since learned to understand. Nevertheless, my reaction was more numbness than pain. I hadn't really expected things to turn out any differently. I just “had” to tell her (I was too weak to make what I now see would have been the more beneficial choice not to.)

Very soon after that, my grandfather died. I'm not sure whether my reaction to that can be called appropriate, but I can describe in no uncertain terms what it was: numbness. I told myself at the time that I was glad to have had him as my grandfather and to have known him, and that to shed tears would have been to dishonor him. I'm not really sure even today whether that was a rationalization of my developing numbness, or whether I truly believed it. I don't think I was a bad person at the time. (I still don't think I am a bad person.) I was just doing the best I could to cope with the situations I was faced with.

I received Robert Sr. (my first laptop) the same day as my grandfather died. My grandfather was also named Robert—not a coincidence, I assure you. My new laptop is Robert Jr. I expect that as I keep getting new laptops, they will all be named Robert. So my grandfather will be remembered. But I can't do the same thing with all my grandparents, let alone all the people I'll know who'll die. I'll have to find some way to retain memories of them that are fitting to the person, the time, and the occasion.

Soon after that, I dropped Philosophy of Science (the first and so far only class I've dropped) because I couldn't cope with the daily homework. (Again, a choice, though in this case I'd probably make the same choice again.) Then a situation with Sheila developed, which was a symptom of the broader fact that I had been treating everyone I knew like crap during the whole Sherry incident. I was totally oblivious to other people's emotions at that time. And following quickly on the heels of that, I started flirting with Alison, unconsciously at first.

When the flirting with Alison became conscious, I was faced with a dilemma. At the time, I considered physical attractiveness a fairly important characteristic in a potential girlfriend, and Alison was not very physically attractive by my standards. I had a very good hunch that Alison would actually be willing to go out with me, if I were interested. In the end I decided that I couldn't allow something as “trivial” as physical appearance alone to dissuade me from going out with her. The predictable result was more numbness.

I went back to CMU after the summer (a summer in which, I might add, I saw Alison far, far less than I would have liked, due mostly to her job at camp—we exchanged many letters, but that was far less satisfying to someone as physically driven as I was at the time) and was stricken with many problems. I was physically away from my girlfriend, who years of accumulated emotional rules told me was supposed to be the most important thing in my life. So I hung around Laura (my computer) waiting on her to show up on ICQ, never getting out to eat enough. I lost many, many pounds that year (losing weight at CMU was nothing new, but the amount was). I also had trouble tolerating my roommate, a typical H&SS freshman with a penchant for drinking and frats—not my type at all. We probably didn't exchange more than a few thousand words all year.

Talking with Alison over ICQ was more valuable to me than anything else I could be doing, but it was still distinctly unsatisfying, especially when the amount of time she had to devote to me was very limited. I was trying to have a full-blown relationship with someone who lived 500 miles away and who didn't share my philosophy that a relationship should be the single most important thing to a person, but believed that it was part of a well-rounded life, like vegetables might be part of a well-rounded diet. This may sound uncharitable, but it's not meant that way. I honestly believe that it was a simple philosophical difference, not hatred or spite on either side, that finally pulled us apart, though Alison may well still hate me.

Finally it came to a head. Spring semester she had planned a week-long visit to CMU, to spend time together. (Time together was in awfully tight supply.) First she shortened the trip, which was painful but still bearable. Then she cancelled it because of her science project. I couldn't take it. I broke up with her. It was really quite impressive how, despite all the explanations she gave of why she had to do it, there was nothing she could have done that would have more clearly proved the position she wanted our relationship to occupy in her life—second fiddle.

Of course, it wasn't that simple. At first I was numb. Once I sort of got over that, I wanted her back. This was another of those instances of me choosing to do something that was just dumb. Even if breaking up with her had been a bad choice, a clean break was still likely to be better than trying to patch things up at this point. But I did anyway. I saw Alison over my spring break, and she actually agreed to go out with me again, at the end of what was mostly a nice talk about some of the issues we had been dealing with, but ended with me practically begging her to give it another shot. Needless to say, it didn't last—I had a few days of blissful ignorance while still at home with no 'net access or anything, then when I got back to CMU she told me that she had reconsidered. Naturally I was furious with her for pulling this kind of flip on me, despite doing the same thing in reverse to her only a few weeks earlier. Relatively soon after that, she stopped talking to me. As in, no communication. Zip. Zero. The most effective punishment she could have used, and I think she knew it.

My apathy was collapsing into despair. I walked along the side of the road thinking about stepping in front of a car one morning. I wrote a very scary letter slightly over 5 pages long to Alison, but never sent it (thank God). I still have the scans I took of it lying around. I did send her a much less scary letter along with a few dollars to call me with, if she so desired. She returned the money (which I didn't even get for several weeks due to an addressing mishap) and true to the promise I'd made in the letter, I threw it in the trash. At that point it was an issue of spite, but this was also long past the time there was any serious chance we'd get back together (although I didn't necessarily let myself become totally aware of that at the time).

Since then I've been in recovery. I can't remember the exact moment when I made the realization that if I allowed my life to go to hell, it really would do so. I can't make myself any hard promises about what I'll do, because I'm afraid I couldn't keep them and I can't get mired in doubt. But when I consciously notice I'm not doing anything useful, I'll try to change things so I am; and when I notice I have a bad habit, I'll try to stop it. Also (and as bad as this might sound, it's honestly not meant as insulting), the entire experience with Alison made me realize that yes, it is actually possible for it to be worse to be in a relationship than not to be in one. It's made me a lot more cautious about going out with someone again. Not that that caution has even had any effect yet—for people like me, opportunities for dating seem to be very few and far between. I'm not really optimistic about the chances improving, either. The types of situations where people meet people have a strong repulsion for me which is unmatched by any attraction to the potential end product.

But anyway, that comes later. It's difficult enough for me to get myself back up on two feet. At this point, I honestly do understand how a relationship could be an encumbrance. I'll try to let myself heal and build myself up before throwing myself into something again.

At the end of the day, do I think I'm a better person for having gone through these experiences? No. More experienced, certainly, and perhaps less delusional—but those were delusions I would have been perfectly happy maintaining my whole life, if only I could have remained convinced of them. Recovery is an ongoing process, though. For a while I didn't cry at movies or beautiful songs. I've started again. And my “recovery” is fully contiguous with and blends right into “living life to its fullest” and “self-actualization".

I don't know if I believe that one can be fully happy without also being in pain.

Kenn Hamm
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Last modified: Mon Dec 22 22:15:28 2003