IV: LEAVING VENUS
I’m almost home from DC, and I stop to text Father T: Nearly there. Stopping by chapel for half hour. If all goes well in prayer, is it okay to tell them tonight?
I hate having to ask about miniscule things like this, but by now I don’t trust myself to see straight. Father T. texts back: Yes. It’s tempting to take his terseness as a sign of impatience instead of firmness — like maybe he’s thinking Geez, Steve, you gonna ask permission to take a leak, too? — but this asinine thought doesn’t gain any traction. He is, after all, Father T.
Which is not to say that he’s not impatient (though he wouldn’t let me know if he was), but that I don’t care if he’s impatient, because he’s my friend and I need help. Good, I text back, thanks. I want to get this done.
You could describe what I do at the chapel as praying, because I’m sitting in front of Jesus, but really we are just kind of looking at each other, feeling awkward. And to be honest, I am a little pissed off at Him. The decision to move out looks small from the outside, but it’s huge to me, and I ask him questions that don’t have answers: How come I couldn’t be strong enough? Why did you let me get so close if I just have to leave again? I feel like Odysseus, coming in sight of Ithaka only to be blown further off course than ever.
And, unlike with other big decisions in my life, my gut won’t guide me. This time, someone else’s advice has to be enough.
But S. is out of town when I get back — for a week, I learn — and I vacillate for a few days, looking for another way out. Finally one night C. and I are chatting over dinner. I feel pretty collected, more or less at peace. I get up to put my plate in the sink and say I have some bad news. “What is it?” he says. “I’m moving out,” I say, and burst into tears.
Crap, I only thought I was collected. Oh well. If there’s one thing I can say about the last two months, it’s cured me of being ashamed to cry in front of my friends. C. is clearly baffled; we’re not terribly close, and since I am pretty good at being cheerful when I’m not by myself, he didn’t know I was going through anything at all.
I explain about the depression, about Fr. T.’s advice, how I don’t want to leave but I know I’ve got to be by myself for a while. He is compassionate, offers his prayers, asks me to do whatever is best for me, and doesn’t push further. When I finally say goodnight he grips my shoulder. “You’re a tough guy, Steve,” he says. “You’ll get through this.”
So why don’t I feel any better about it? I make plans to tell S. when he comes back; it’s not the kind of thing you want to do over the phone. But I eventually realize I can’t wait a week, so Sunday evening after dinner I say a prayer to the Holy Spirit, light up a smoke, and give him a call. I’m actually shaking.
His reaction is, I’m embarrassed to say, gratifying: “WHAT!?” he yells. “Why?” I know it’s selfish to be glad that he’s upset, but I can’t help it: the old wound, the part of me that always suspects I’m not wanted, can never be salved enough, not even by so much friendship as S. has offered.
I give him the same account I gave C. but with a little more detail, since I’ve already confided in him about my SSA and since he already knows the last two months have not been easy. And he is as gracious as C. was: prayers, encouragement, understanding, and all manner of well-wishing.
How do I always end up surrounded by such good people?
I hang up, cry maybe just a little — Lord, how did I get to be such a cryer — and breathe deep. Well: it’s early yet. The coffee shop will still be open, and it’s a nice night for walking.
I’m halfway there before I realize I’m singing, loudly, an old Beck song:
Holding hands with an impotent dream
In a brothel of fake energy…
I get higher and lower
Like a tired soldier
With nothing to shoot, and nowhere to lose
This bottle of blues.
That’s odd, I’m grinning; at the aptness of the words, and also because they are not apt at all; at the fact that, corny as it sounds, the sky literally seems clearer than usual, more open, as if I can sense the depth behind it; the world smells more fragrant, more like spring. I’m like somebody in love.
I’m so used to sadness that comes from nowhere and disappears the same way. So often, getting happy again has meant buckling down, sticking to the routine, waiting for it to pass. I’m not used to this simple, objective stuff, where the sadness has a cause, where the removal of the cause means you feel better.
I know it’s not over yet, because there’s still the wait, the search for someone to take my place at the house, the whole lengthy ordeal of moving. I know no feeling lasts forever, and that in fact I will probably be sad tomorrow out of plain habit. Who knows, I could be sad all week, or all month. But there’s an end in sight. For the moment I’m sane enough to keep from self-analysis, to keep from asking myself, like some tiresome, sanctimonious schoolmaster: Now what did we learn from this?
Okay, so maybe I learned something. It’s this: if I ever traveled to Venus, I’d probably take off my helmet and try to breathe the formaldehyde. “Idiot, what are you doing?” my fellow astronauts would be yelling. “People can’t breathe that stuff!” And I’d yell back, “Don’t worry! It hurts now, but it’ll make my lungs stronger in the end! I’m IMPROVING myself!” Then I’d keel over and die, a perfectly preserved monument to virtue and self-improvement.
Screw self-improvement. Forget facing terror and misery, except when I have to. Sometimes there’s a good reason to be miserable: that’s how it feels when you’re not where you’re supposed to be.