You know what this is about.
A life update.
Maybe you’ve noticed I’ve been different lately. A bit off. A shade left of center. I mean … I’ve always been kinda weird, and a little bit quirky, and some people think that’s charming and others think it’s what makes me who I am and they wouldn’t trade it for anything, and that’s great. This is not that. This is different relative to baseline.
Maybe you’ve noticed the clothes I wear not fitting or matching as well as they used to, Oxfords un-ironed or the same jeans three days in a row, or the way I go a little bit longer in between haircuts or beard trims, or the off-color stains on my teeth.
Maybe you’ve noticed the way I walk, with a newly-acquired hitch in my gait, or the way I gesture wildly as I tell every little story as if it’s gospel. Maybe you’ve noticed the way I tremble as I sit, my hands shaking more than usual in a way that makes drinking a full cup of coffee impossible without dribbling or spilling, or that I drop my keys a bit more than usual, or that it takes two or three tries to type the text I want free of typos, and that my handwriting has eroded into an illegible chicken-scratch, and then I play it off like, “Oh, it’s the steroids I take for my asthma, they do that.” (They do. Sorta.)
Maybe you’ve noticed the way I’ve been a bit too cavalier in conversation, gushing over people I love and slamming people I’m momentarily ticked at, or that I’ve started oversharing a bit more than usual, or that I’m a bit *too* comfortable dropping f-bombs or telling off-color jokes or writing dirty poetry about sex with fridge magnets in public places, or that I’ve been talking to anyone I find interesting with an obsessive passion that’s disproportionate to how close we are in distance or in life.
Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve essentially ghosted from the world except via social media, spending most evenings either alone at home staring into my phone, or meeting randoms out at dimly lit dives close by, shrouded in secrecy and blanketed by the warm glow of low stakes and no expectations, and now only rarely gracing current actual friends with my presence, and spending most of my time gallivanting around in other cities, having the very, very best times and most epic moments of all time, chasing ghosts of people I used to know and essentially recreating the life I had in 1997, 2001, 2005 or 2009, depending on your frame of reference.
Maybe you’ve noticed the frequent headaches, or the weak, dry cough, or the fact that now I have headphones in my ears more often than not, or that the Favor deliveries are piling up, as are the empty boxes from food I ate days ago, and that my place is only a fraction as clean as it used to be, and the basil and rosemary I took great pride in keeping alive for over a year have now wilted and browned, as has the relationship I once had with the woman who inspired me to plant them in the first place.
Maybe you’ve noticed the way I don’t much care about how the things I say sound, or how the things I do matter to the people around me, or the way I’ve forgotten plans I’ve made and made grandiose plans on a whim to do other increasingly random things, openly weeping at concerts and taking copious selfies at ballparks, only to find the same hollow feeling inside once all these activities subside and I’m once again left alone in the company of only my own disconcerting thoughts.
Maybe you’ve noticed the grimy car that goes a little longer in between washes, or the registration sticker that reads 6 / 16, or the strung-up bumper from a crash I had over two years ago that should’ve killed me but miraculously didn’t, the bumper that I still haven’t yet fixed or had replaced, as a reminder of my own fragility and mortality and as an enduring signal of my proprietary laziness.
Maybe you’ve noticed that my writing’s turned sour and nihilist, that I’m bit more snippy and irritable than normal, or that my introspection always seemed to have one blind-spot in particular which would’ve tied this all together, or that I don’t quite work or function quite the way I used to, and that I have to try twice as hard to get half as much done, and most days I don’t feel much like trying at all.
Maybe you’ve noticed. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe this comes as a surprise to you. Maybe, despite noticing this, you think to yourself, “Well, he seems like he has a really great life and perhaps he is just celebrating and perhaps I shouldn’t bring it up.” I mean, after all, I’ve always been really bad at hiding things. I ruin surprise parties. I don’t keep secrets. Maybe you’ve wanted to say something, but didn’t really think it was any of your business.
Last night, even though I don’t think she meant to, someone came forward.
“I’m worried about you,” she said in a warm, sweet seriousness. “You’re not the person I used to know. I first noticed it a couple months ago, but I didn’t want to say anything.”
I didn’t even feel compelled to ask a follow-up question like, “Oh, but how specifically am I different?” Or even a, “What do you mean by that?”
She continued, “I’m worried because you have worked so, so hard to get to where you are. And you came from so far down to reach this point, and I don’t ever want you to go back there.”
I held my head in my hands for about 15 seconds. I knew.
The only sentence I could manage to her in that moment without tearing up was a shaky, “You’re right,” and we didn’t speak of it again the rest of the night.
Maybe you’re waiting for me to tell you why I’m telling you all this, but for me to tell you why would be to speak it into existence and make it more real than I want it to be. And so I won’t say the words. Not the words you want to hear, because I don’t want to hear them.
This morning, while again texting people from all walks of life snarky asides and/or dispensing life advice or platitudes of support and confessions of how truly wonderful they’ve been and how much they’ve meant to me, on my way back from the taqueria I tend to go to on Sunday mornings after Saturday nights like that, I walked across the street to the urgent care because that thing that’s making me just a little bit different lately is pushing me perilously close to ruin, and now that someone else has noticed, that means the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to midnight, and even though she never said the words to me, I knew the words she didn’t say, and I knew the words I told myself, and those were the words that mattered the most.
Still in last night’s clothes except I traded in slacks for basketball shorts, looking every bit like the disheveled panhandlers that pockmark the street I crossed, I opened the door where I was greeted by a warm smile, which I joyously returned to her before my face shrunk, my shoulders slumped, and I struggled to introduce myself to her. I managed just two sentences after saying hello.
I looked her straight in the eyes, something I don’t do much to anyone anymore, swallowed hard and said with as much gusto as I could muster:
“I’m sick. I need help.”