There’s something about palindromes that I enjoy. I don’t think there’s anything unique about that. People seem to generally like symmetry, patterns and repetition. 33 is a short palindrome, not like race car, but there’s even something appreciable in its simplicity. It also happens to be the age that I’ll be in two weeks. Palindrome birthdays only happen every eleven years, and if my life continues in the average way, I’ve got three more left. This birthday feels like a more momentous one than other recent years.
That’s partly because 33 pops up in some interesting places. The first reference that comes to my mind is the Battlestar Galactica episode 33, where the Cylons appear every 33 minutes and attack the human fleet. I recently rewatched the Battlestar Galactica miniseries. It was thrilling to finally watch the show again after so many years with someone who had never seen it before. It was like watching it again for the first time. I’m not sure if I’ll keep going with the series on my own. Maybe I’ll watch 33 on my birthday for kicks.
The more famous reference to 33 is the death of Jesus. I’m not religious, and I don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God or that he was resurrected. I do believe that he was a real person, a radical thinker in an extraordinarily conservative time period. Without the Messiah overtones, Jesus sounds like a cool but really annoying guy, depending on your vantage point. Some carpenter hanging out with prostitutes and a bunch of guys, talking shit about Caesar Augustus and flipping over tables, challenging the very foundation of the society he lived in under pain of death? Yeah, I can see how you would either really like him or REALLY hate him. I was recently asked what historical time periods I would like to visit, and my answer was to see Jesus as he lived.
I’m not sure I’ve done anything as interesting as Jesus in my 32 years so far, and I don’t anticipate becoming a major religious icon for more than three billion people in the next year. There are some things I want to do in my 33rd year though, and I think that’s what I’m writing about. I say “I think” because every time I pretend to know what I’m doing, thinking or writing, life has shown me that I don’t know anything.
I wrote earlier this year about how my friends had helped me to shift my perspective on self care and my life, and how the results had been an unmitigated success in terms of my confidence and my experiences since. Friends I hadn’t spent time with in months were suddenly hitting me up to hang out; a year-long relationship drought turned into dates and awesome experiences; my wardrobe, which consisted of an embarrassing number of novelty t-shirts and bad-fitting jeans, got a sudden upgrade to match with the new style. I felt happy, and I liked feeling happy.
A major shift occurred over the weekend. I’d decided last week that I was going to take a four day weekend to spend time with my friends, and a woman I really liked. My ex-wife had asked to keep our son for the weekend so that they could go to festivals and celebrations in their town, so that gave me free reign over the house for the weekend. I joked to one of my coworkers that I was considering taking Tuesday off too, but that if I did that, then I knew I would never go back to work. The four days would have to suffice- a weekend of sex, drugs and videogames. I needed it. Things started off that way, and I had a great Friday night with the woman I liked, and played a bunch of videogames with my friend on Saturday.
Then came the Lord’s Day.
Before that though, I need to talk about this song. I’ve been listening to Frank Ocean’s Nights almost nonstop for the last few weeks. I found it on Twitter, in an Arthur meme which is legit amazing. I looked the lyrics up, and that’s when the song went from good to masterpiece:
Drop the baby off at home before my night shift
You know I can’t hear none of that spend the night shit, Kumbaya shit
Want to see nirvana, we don’t want to die yeah
Wanna feel that lovin’ when you come by
Fuck with me after my shift
Know them boys wanna see me broke down
Wanna see me bummed out
Shut the fuck up I don’t want your conversation
Rolling marijuana, that’s a cheap vacation
My everyday shit, every night shit
My everyday shit every night shit
Those lyrics stayed with me, because I was experiencing that. I wanted to spend as much time with the woman that I liked as possible, but between my 50 hour workweek and her 60 hour workweek, it was a struggle to find the time to make it happen. We snatched time on the weekends when I could, a time that was traditionally reserved for me and my son. No, I wasn’t dropping my baby off before my night shift, but I was sending him home early or picking him up later because I wanted and needed a kind of company that directly conflicted with my role as a father. I’ve long since gotten over my feelings of guilt about that sort of thing, but the song spoke to the conflict of trying to squeeze everything into an insufficient 24 hour time frame. I wanted her to spend the night, but she had to be up and at work the next day, with enough rest to handle her double shift. I didn’t give a fuck about falling asleep at my job, I did it all the time anyway. She worked a job where alertness and attentiveness actually mattered though, so she wasn’t trying to hear that Kumbaya shit.
Listening to Frank Ocean’s life made me feel like someone else understood the ways in which my desires to be a father, a man who loves a woman, and a person who isn’t struggling to make ends meet collide with each other. It doesn’t matter that he’s far richer than me, singing about a man and doesn’t have children of his own. The specificity of his experience allowed me to see myself in the details of his story. I’ve always been kind of embarrassed to write about myself and my life, not because I’m embarrassed to share details about myself (in fact, I’ll tell you everything, all you have to do is ask), but because I’ve always seen it as a creative failure, as the “last resort” when I can’t get myself to imagine some fantastic scenario or interesting take on the world outside of myself. Nights is about Ocean, and that’s what makes it about me too. I understand my own frustrations better after I listened to this person, who has never met me, sing about them.
I write because I have to. It helps me to make sense of myself and the world around me. I often feel a little ashamed that I can’t create entire worlds like Jemisen and Toriyama and Tolkien. I’m beginning to understand that all of those stories, no matter how fantastic they may seem, are about their authors first and foremost. N. K. Jemisen said as much in a tweet. She wrote,
All artists process their world into their work. That’s how we do what we do. Even the most escapism-obsessed writer, who claims to have no whiff of reality in his skiffy, is processing by aversion.
Nights has helped me to feel better about processing my world into my work, which is useful because I’m still trying to make sense of these last few weeks of being 32.
As I mentioned earlier, I started dating again recently. My last relationship had ended a year earlier, and was marked by lots of lying from me. I decided right at the outset of this journey that I would always tell the truth. That didn’t mean recklessly volunteering information, but if I was asked about anything, or chose to talk about anything, it would always be the truth. I thought it was the best way to avoid the heartache and fights of my last relationship. You don’t have to keep up with your untruths and be confronted with your lies if you don’t tell any, right?
Well, as it turns out, the truth has consequences too. I naively thought that there couldn’t possibly be any problems with telling the truth. Of course though, people have the right to react to the truth that you share, and they may not like it. I shared my truth with the woman I liked on Friday, and three days later it rose to cast our budding relationship into eternal hellfire. She told me that she’d sat with what I told her, and it made her uncomfortable. That she didn’t think we could continue as a romantic pairing anymore, but that she’d like to remain friends if possible.
What followed was the typical negotiations that occur at the end of a relationship, even a fledgling one like ours. Was there any chance she would change her mind? Did I actually want to still be friends? I say “typical,” but this was all new to me. My usual pattern is, “Oh, we had sex? I guess we’re married now!” That was literally the case with my ex-wife, and I was with my ex-girlfriend for three years before we broke up. The relationships had time to grow, mature and sour. This was different- we’d only been talking for a couple of months before it ended. The lesson here isn’t that I should have lied. The lesson is that some things simply do not work. Our truths were incompatible, and while that’s sad, it’s not regrettable. I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made for myself, and I don’t regret being open about them. I don’t regret her honesty and forthrightness.
But could I be friends with her? The other part of my typical pattern is to hold onto things for too long, to hold out hope that something will change. That was my other lesson, that wanting love and affection from someone may be honest, but it’s harmful when it clashes with reality. Would I be interacting with her based on what I appreciated about her as a friend, or would I be remembering the oddly pleasurable sensation of her fingernails digging into my shoulders?
I arrived on what was the best thing for me: distance for a while, with friendship later. Again, this was a new but necessary step for me. I ate dinner at my ex-wife’s house for an entire year after we separated. That situation eventually worked itself out, but it took more time than it reasonably should have. This is an experience that I can learn from and carry forward with me into my 33rd year. It’s a painful lesson, but it could be worse- I could have been dumped and then got hit by a car or something.
Actually, it was much worse- I got dumped, and my son got hit by a car.
Before I start getting a ton of phone calls and text messages, he’s perfectly fine. It was a minor, low-speed accident. He was riding his bike, and came to a four-way intersection. He tried to ride across the road on a red light, but a car made a right-hand turn on red and bumped into him. He fell off his bike. The lady who hit him stopped to make sure that he was okay, and then another lady stopped and checked on him too. He was the one who called me, while I was taking a walk to mope about the fact that my blossoming romance was over.
“Hey Gabe, what’s up?”
“Um, I just got hit by a car.”
Intellectually, I immediately understood that if he was calling me, he had to be fine. If there was a real emergency, the call would have been coming from his mother or, God forbid, the police. But hearing that cuts right past the intellectual part of the brain and goes straight for the emotional center, the part that reacts with completely unreasonable fear and panic. I didn’t betray any of those feelings to him. My job at that moment was to be his father and comfort him, not a parent that worries about every little thing that could possibly harm my child in this insane world where two ton missiles race down twelve-foot wide lanes with nothing separating them except paint on the asphalt and human judgment.
I told him to head back home, and then I called his mother and we talked. I hung up with her, and I called my friend and cried. She gave me a ton of good advice, but it wasn’t enough. I called the woman I still liked.
“I know we just finished having that talk, but I really wish you were here right now.”
And she came to me.
There’s a level of humanity that I feel like I’m still being introduced to, and that’s the level of expressing a genuine need, and then having that need fulfilled. I’ve always been afraid that I burden other people with what I want because at heart I’m very emotional. I do my best to hide it, but I’m quick to laugh, quick to cry and quick to every other emotion. That felt like a weakness for so long, and I was afraid of being rejected. I was afraid of being told that my needs were too much, that I needed too much attention, that I was being a crybaby and a chump. But I was overwhelmed by the reality that life is going to fucking happen whether I’m there or not. My son has a life that puts him in places and in situations that I can’t protect him from. He’s never been seriously sick or hurt before, so I’ve never had to truly confront that. Even now, he wasn’t really hurt. But he could have been, and there was nothing to do but hear about how fortunate he was after the fact. That’s a a low feeling. Like bottom of a well low. All of the love in the world can’t form a force field around the ones we care about. All we can really do is hold the people we care about close when we can, and hope for the best when we can’t.
And she came and held me that night. We played chess. We played Spit. We ate McDonald’s. And then we went to sleep with my arms wrapped around her, and it made that night bearable. She left at 2:00 AM in the morning, because she had a double the next day and my snoring was keeping her awake. None of that kumbaya shit.
I went to see Gabriel the next day since it was Indigenous People’s Day. He was pretty much unphased. We played videogames. We went for a walk along the Connecticut River, on a bike path he’s ridden on every day and was so excited to show me. We talked about how Ninja is overrated and TSM Myth is too serious for him to enjoy. I kept marveling at how this boy, who I watched being born, was now taller than my shoulder. His voice gets deeper every day. He said to me that he’d be driving in five years. Five years! That’s nothing! Eleven have gone by so fast, it’s going to be 2023 before I know it. He’ll probably be as tall as me then, if not taller. What am I going to do with a sixteen year old?
The weekend I’d planned for rest and relaxation had instead turned into one of the most stressful I’ve had. I drank and smoked Monday night, not to excess, but enough to take the edge off, and then some. I woke up Tuesday morning with just a bit of a hangover, and went to wake up my roommate. I told him that I was thinking about calling out of work, and he said he was considering the same. So we both called out of work. Remember that joke I told my coworkers about not coming back if I took Tuesday off? Looking at it now, that wasn’t a joke.
I write, but I didn’t want to be a writer when I was a kid. I wanted to be a teacher. There were no examples of the kind of writer I am when I was growing up. Believe it or not, I’m not that much of a reader. Or let me rephrase that: I’m not that much of a novel reader. I read all the time, but it’s always in short form: essays, articles, short stories, that sort of thing. My child’s mind never made the leap that writers wrote those too. Writers wrote novels, and I had no interest in novels.
The journey towards wanting to be a writer as a profession is very recent. As in the last 2-3 years recent. It’s been a fitful journey, with a bunch of freelance jobs and bouncing between full-time jobs that I really didn’t like, just to bring some steady money in. My most successful writing stint was with the website Black Nerd Problems. I produced some good stuff for them on a regular basis. It was a volunteer job, but I really liked the people and the vibe of the site. I’m all for paying writers an excellent wage, but I also recognize a labor of love when I see it, and I’m down to struggle with others like me as long as some fat cat isn’t making bank off of our free labor.
But not getting paid is not getting paid, and children do cost money. I found a full-time job, riding a desk like I had at the Connecticut Mirror, and Wesleyan, and Hartford Healthcare, and Trinity. I don’t know what made me think that this experience would be any different. I thought that doing the exact same thing would yield a different result. Isn’t that someone’s definition of insanity?
It did have a result that I didn’t anticipate- I had to stop writing for BNP. After a full day of work, I didn’t have the energy to watch an hour-long show twice, and then spend two to three more hours writing about it and screen capping it. That was a sacrifice I had to make, I told myself. No matter how much I liked BNP, $48,000 > $0.
I also stopped writing on this blog as often. I’ve never been consistent with my writing, but this has been a low point even for me. I’ve posted 17 blogs in the last 125 days, including two separate stretches where I promised myself to post something every day. Of those 17 posts, only six are any good. Writing takes time, and good writing takes even more time.
And that’s been the problem- time. That became very clear on Indigenous People’s Day and the Tuesday I took off from work. With those two days, I finally had the time to talk to other people, reflect and write the way that I wanted to. It was also a matter of timing. The woman I liked told me on Sunday that I should stop saying, “I need to write,” and start saying, “I get to write.” That small semantic shift has made a world of difference already. I started this essay on Tuesday and wrote 1800 words. That’s four and a half pages. I was able to accomplish that because I had a topic, the time, and the positive perspective. This essay is almost 4800 words long, written in three days. Life gave me the topics, and she gave me the inspiration. I just needed to provide the time.
So I quit my job.
I think the main lesson I learned from this summer is humility. I’ve been openly hostile to the idea of being humble before, and no one should take my enjoyment of self-deprecating humor as humility. However, I did learn, to my surprise, that I don’t know everything, and I’m not always right. My friends were right about my haircut, and several people have been right about the various topics I’ve discussed with them since. I had to learn to shut up and listen.
Shutting up and listening applies not only to other people, but to the universe as well. I said that I’m not religious, but that doesn’t mean that I’m so arrogant that I don’t concede there are probably forces far beyond our limited human ability to comprehend influencing, and even guiding, our destinies. While I attribute this perspective to the influence of family and friends, it’s also been a result of the universe being really, REALLY obvious about its intentions.
I was still deciding on whether or not I was going to quit my job yesterday morning when I thought of one of my friends. We’d had an argument about a month ago, and thanks to our equal amounts of stubborn self-righteousness, hadn’t spoken to each other since. I thought about how much I missed her, and was considering giving her a call as I walked towards work. At that exact moment, she drove by and honked her horn.
I reasonably interpreted that as a sign to make the call. We talked for about half an hour, and I told her that I was considering quitting my job to pursue writing more seriously. My other friends had cautioned me to wait, line up opportunities and bide my time. She said, “Sometimes you just gotta pick up what you have and cross the road.”
Of course, I chose to interpret the signs of the universe in the way which confirmed my preconceived notions. But in case I had any doubts, as I was sitting at work, looking at the email I had drafted to tell my supervisor I was leaving and considering whether I should send it or not, I got a text. It was from a friend I’d seen at a fundraiser a few weeks ago where we exchanged phone numbers. The very first text she sent me was for a freelance writing opportunity.
It honestly doesn’t get more obvious than that. My last day is October 24th.
Things feel different. I’ve been sober for the three days that I’ve been writing this essay. No alcohol or marijuana. I woke up on Tuesday and chose to be lucid, because I needed to focus on what my future was going to be.
It’s funny how you incorporate your own destruction into your routine. When I was sad, I told myself that there needs to be sad people in the world to balance out the happy people. When I was high all the time, I had a whole spiel about how smoking connects me with the self that I’ve hidden behind walls for thirty years. That’s still true, but I was also getting high to run away from the dissatisfaction that I felt.
I took a day off from work to make weed brownies a few weeks ago. They were initially made for fun because I’d never tried them before, but I realized that this was a convenient way around an issue I had at work. During my onboarding, I was explicitly told not to show up to work drunk or high. “Believe it or not,” my HR person told me, “We had an employee who used to show up high in the mornings.” I laughed politely, but that meant that I couldn’t plausibly deny that I didn’t know there was a “No THC on the clock” policy. But if I ate an edible before work, there was no smoke smell, no red eyes, just a low-grade full body buzz to keep me going.
It got to the point that I stopped baking the brownies all together. I simply scooped some of the weed butter into a bag and went to work. I stopped by Dunkin Donuts on the way and asked for a plain, untoasted bagel. I went into the kitchen at my job, toasted the bagel, melted the butter in the microwave, spread it on the bagel and got high at my desk while I was ostensibly eating breakfast. I told my friends this story to be humorous, but now that I’m writing it, I realize how not funny it is. How miserable it is to feel like you need to be high every single day. How common it is among the people that I know, a little grease on the wheel that’s grinding us down.
Three days of sobriety is not alot of time, but it’s monumental for me because it’s three days where I haven’t felt like I need something to make things better. It’s the longest amount of time I’ve been sober in years. I’m not giving up marijuana or alcohol all together. I enjoy their effects, and I enjoy both socially. I’m simply at a place where lucidity is also desirable. When I write. When I talk to people I love. When I have a goal to work towards. There will also be times to let loose and relax, or hard days like Sunday when a crutch is necessary. But I’m looking forward to going home tonight, reading a book and writing. The weed can wait.
What does any of this have to do with turning 33? Isn’t that what this essay is about? Or is it about Frank Ocean? Or my love life? Or writing? I think all of those things are about turning 33. October 21st is just another day, completely indistinguishable from the one that came before or the one that came after, except for the importance I’ve bestowed upon it as the day I entered this world more than three decades ago. Maybe there’s more to it than that though.
One of the most important things the woman I liked taught me was about astrology. I’ve always known that I’m a Libra, but I kind of dismissed that with the haughty arrogance that has been a trademark of mine for far too long. “How can the alignment of the stars and planets affect my decision-making?” Well, when you think about it, how can they not? How can subtle changes in gravity across our solar system not have an impact on what you think and feel? The moon is powerful enough to pull the entire ocean towards it; do I really think it’s not affecting the insignificant molecules that form my gray matter? I can’t see gamma rays, but they’re there. What other energy flows across the universe are passing through me, moving me towards this thing or that?
I don’t know, which is why choice still matters. I can look to the stars and heavens for guidance and insight, but then I have to make a choice. A choice to love. A choice to try. A choice to make October 21st important. To take the things I’ve learned and make October 22nd different and distinct. And then October 23rd. And so on until I rejoin the universal energy flow.
Until then, you’re going to have to keep reading really long essays about the things I’ve learned. Sorry.
3 thoughts on “33”
Though I know you only through social media, I need to make two important comments.
As to “carry forward with me into my 33rd year,” that will be your 34th year.
I decided (correctly, I still think) in my mid-twenties that 35 would be the beginning of the prime of life. You have that to look forward to.