It was mid-August in New England. I spent much of the summer sleeping in large, lonely houses, vacant due to the exotic vacations and extended business trips of their owners. I was paid to tend vegetable gardens and feed purebred pets. Upon taking such jobs, I envisioned leisurely evenings of sipping iced tea by the pool as a shoreline breeze cooled my perfectly tanned skin. Instead, I tossed in lumpy guest room beds, drenched with sweat, suffocating in the thick, humid air. An antique grandfather clock relentlessly ticked, mocking my exhaustion and fueling my restlessness.
It became habit, when I could no longer stand the silent insanity of being alone, to hurriedly dial my best friend.
“Ahoy,” Sam answered, not at all surprised by my late night call.
“I want to kill myself,” I said dryly, waiting for a response that did not come.
“Dude. It’s too fucking hot!” I snapped.
“You want to kill yourself because it’s too hot?” he asked, slightly amused.
“The two are unrelated. I was just filling the silence where you were supposed to yell NO DON’T JUMP! by talking about the weather.”
“Oh, I get it – No! Don’t jump!” he teased.
“This isn’t funny. I spent all night thinking of suicide notes. And honestly, the only thing keeping me from hanging myself is my obsession with writing the perfect one,” I said.
“So once it meets your standards, you’ll do it?” he asked.
“Clearly,” I said.
“You know, I think it’d actually be pretty awesome if you killed yourself because of the weather. Something short and sweet like, It’s just too hot. Peace out, M-Scout.”
Ignoring him, I continued, “I’m such a perfectionist. If I off myself I want my note to be so moving, so tragic, and so ultimately truthful that when people read it they lose all hope in humanity and kill themselves too.”
“Personally I wouldn’t write a note; I’d just leave everyone guessing,” he said. “I’ve thought about this a lot actually. I’d be facing an auditorium full of school children, holding a gun to my head. At the very moment of pulling the trigger I would turn so my brains splatter over as many kids as possible. They would have to be about 8 or 9 years old – you know, just the right age to comprehend what is going on, but not old enough to emotionally process it.”
“Selfish bastard,” I snickered. I was already in a better mood. “Hey! Wouldn’t it be fun to pick a random person, like someone you kind of know – an antisocial neighbor or a friend of a friend of a friend – and blame the whole thing on him without any reason? Dear Brett, this is ALL your fault. I hope you’re happy, asshole.”
“Yes! And he’d be so confused and ridden with guilt he’d commit suicide too!” Sam added, erupting in laughter.
This was the beauty of our relationship. We could talk about things so hauntingly real that we could only joke about them, and in joking about them they lost their power over us. We shared a sick sense of humor and an understanding that even though life was relentless, we were living for some larger purpose and would make the best of a world we didn’t want to belong to. With sarcasm and wit Sam reminded me that the weather would eventually change; that there could never be a perfect suicide note.
At twenty, we struggled to find ourselves in a world of people too complacent to even realize they were lost. We drank full pots of coffee, climbed trees, stayed up late to watch the whole Indiana Jones trilogy. We had nothing but shitty food service jobs and barely made enough to keep gas in our tanks. We had everything.
Last year Sam “moved up” in the world. He got a job at his mom’s office. It came with health benefits, a dress code, and a somewhat fancy title. Then, he got promoted and got an even fancier title, and hooked me up with his old position. I was skeptical, but everyone kept asking what I was going to do with my life. I was drowning in bills. I took the job.
A few months in, he and I sat across a table, drinking diet cokes, on our paid lunch hour. I told him he had changed; I didn’t like it. He said he was growing up without me – that I kicked and screamed every inch toward adulthood while he embraced it. We spoke candidly as the Cranberries’ “Linger” played in the background. I nervously chewed on my straw.
I knew I didn’t belong in an office. I tried. I took out all my piercings and wore buttoned shirts and cardigans. I followed policies, I called people Mr. and Mrs. and Sir. I watered plants. I got paid well. To be clear, the people were nice, I cannot say anything negative about them, but the job was tedious and boring, and in my mind it was meaningless. What good was a paycheck if every day I felt like my creativity and passion died a bit more. I paid my rent, and utilities, and most of my credit card debt. I went to a doctor for the first time since college. I was extremely grateful for those things, but also trapped by them.
Soon I could no longer joke with Sam about those “lost” people; he was now one of them. He’d think I was ungrateful. I wasn’t ungrateful at all, just terrified of waking up at 30 and hating myself.
When JD entered my life I could once again stay up late and talk about these fears. I could talk about my time volunteering in Brazil, and how I would trade another experience like that for paid vacation days without a thought. We talked about passion, and the real values in life, and not selling all your time and energy to a company where you are easily replaceable, just another sheep. He had many of the same views of his Ivy surroundings. We were grateful, and desperately dreamed of getting out.
Then JD got a job – the type of job where you stay and build a career that compliments your life rather than consumes it. And we got engaged. And raised a puppy. And planned a 3000 mile road trip. And bought a car. And found an apartment on the other side of the country. And if you ask me, all of those things seem pretty damned “grown up.”
My last day at work was supposed to be today. I did not show up. I slept late, took the dog outside, and embraced the beauty of enjoying one of my last sunny days in Connecticut. I looked at the floor plans of our new apartment. I looked at maps for our road trip. I got out.
Not showing up to work on your last day is not the responsible, respectful thing to do. I am willing to take whatever flack admitting to that brings me. It is my life. It is my time, and today I enjoyed every single hour of it.
Sam called me after 5pm and yelled – a lot, a lot, a lot. He said he will not be attending my going away party this weekend. He said I am a selfish child and will never grow up. He said we are not friends, and have not been in a long time. He wished me a good life and then hung up, probably for the last time.
I cried. And cried. And cried.
This is what I have to say:
I loved him. I loved him in many ways for many years. And as he “grew up” I tried to tag a long. I tried to keep up the dynamic of when we joked about suicide and communism and stayed up until 3am spewing beautiful nonsense only we understood. But when Sam started wearing sneakers on the walk from his car to the office before changing into the dress shoes kept under his desk, when he started bringing his own lunch, when important people called for him, I knew it was over.
Today I put all my piercings back in. I wore something that showed the tattoo on my shoulder. I spent time with people who love and accept me. JD said I seemed really happy, finally.
I am not ungrateful. On the contrary, I am extremely grateful. I am grateful for the benefits and opportunities that job afforded me, but I am mostly grateful that it taught me exactly who I am not. My life may never include a fancy title, big paychecks, and a corner office and that is OK. As far as I know, I only get one life, and I’m much happier living it my way.
Today I did something irresponsible, simply because it’s what I wanted to do, and apparently it cost me an 8 year friendship. Friends grow apart. I’m about to start the biggest adventure of my life – I’m moving across the country, getting married, starting a real career – nothing is concrete, nothing is predictable, and nothing is grey – I am growing up.