Despite purchasing a Kindle last year for my trip to Thailand, I hadn’t gotten around to using it for much beyond travel guides until this recent period of unemployment. Between then and now I’ve downloaded a library of inconsistently-themed books on a whim, since books are much cheaper to impulse buy and excuse oneself for at the sake of becoming literate and literary.
Given I tend to shop to offset the feelings surrounding negative occurrences in my life, I downloaded a few more books at Amazon’s suggestion hoping that I’d get through all of them and be able to say I had accomplished reading more in a few weeks than I had in the last 30 years. Instead, for the most part, these books are just collecting pixel dust on virtual bookshelves.
In two weeks of unemployment I’ve forced myself through 50% of the historical fiction tale The Daughters of Mars which, in all of its historical accuracy about being an Australian army nurse in World War I, hasn’t quite aroused my speed reading chip. Another book I downloaded on a whim — The Fault in Our Stars — seemed like a wise trade in honor of the accomplishment of getting half way through the other book – a quick-read, tragic young adult novel where the main character — a 16 year old girl from Indiana — has stage IV lung cancer and spends the book living and dying simultaneously while being as normal a teenager one can be while living and dying respectively simultaneously. I figured I’d read the book before one day soon watching the movie on an airplane.
This afternoon I took the great payment of unemployment — time — and spent it on two hours or so floating around aimlessly in our apartment complex’s pool which for some reason doesn’t get a ton of traffic. While the sun occasionally hid behind a giant tree sending shivers down my spine, in general she was out in all of her everyday-in-California glory, and the wind pushed me towards one side of the pool which I repelled off of to settle in the center of its blue waters for a while before against I was crushed up in my orange tube against the walls of its empty waters again.
I’m ashamed, though I shouldn’t be, to admit I was quite engrossed in this young adult novel as at the age of near 31 I’m no longer a young adult. I’m. Just. An. Adult. But despite the book’s annoying attachment to what at times feels like a page-turning list of colloquial teenagerisms, I wanted to find out what was happening to Hazel Grace and her young-in-cancer-remission lover who lost a leg but still was clearly a hunk. I paused at 50%, because my body was starting to get pruney, the tree was winning against the setting sun, and I felt inspired to write a blog post in reflection of the day.
The book, not surprisingly, has me thinking about my father — who, as I’ve mentioned many times on this blog — has stage IV prostate cancer and was told by his doctors that he was to die within two years of over six years ago. Never a healthy man, my father always made it out to visit me when he said he would, so when he had to miss a play I was directing for illness I knew something serious was wrong. That something serious was cancer. A cancer that could have been cured possibly if he hadn’t faltered on our genetic inclination to put off such important things we fear such as medical visits and route tests. And while I had expected to get a call one day that his obesity caused a heart attack or stroke, instead, cancer would be the culprit of his demise.
While my father and I end up in more arguments than friendly conversations, I’m more like him than I’d like to admit and he’s more like me than he ever would. I’m not sure exactly how I’m processing his illness as his health is about the same as it has always been with his heft, and his reclusion in his den, asleep in his chair after drifting off reading some physics book or watching some conservative diatribe, in between getting into an argument with my mother for something she shouldn’t have done and her cluelessness of how to relate to other people like a respectable adult. Even though I’ve tried my best to visit over three times a year since leaving home over 13 years ago, my visits are never visually welcome. Then, when I’m away, even for a day, my dad will take it upon himself to tell me that he misses me, but I’m not sure what missing me might feel like since when I’m around he uses the time as an opportunity to judge every element of my life, from the occupation of my boyfriend to my own living situation and career. I’ve learnt the best way to handle such a parent is to answer all the questions with as little information as possible, unless a debate is desired to engage in what my family considers conversation.
I was thinking how strange it is that I haven’t yet told my parents that I lost my job. There are some things I don’t tell them — they know nothing of the accident I got into driving my car down highway one when my tire blew out in my early 20s, nor do they have a clue that I spent a night in (the lobby area of) jail handcuffed to a chair on psych watch after blowing a .10% and receiving my very first and last DUI. They don’t know the details of my various relationships. I guess growing up is partially about telling your parents only what they want to hear or need to hear versus the actual truth. And one day your kids will do the same, if you have kids.
But I just wish right now more than anything I could tell them that I had lost my job, and that I want to take this time to visit them and have more than a quick week to spend to rush through all the hellos and goodbyes with them along with my childhood friends from the area. It isn’t often in adult life we have the opportunity to return to our childhood homes with our parents still in relatively good health and spend weeks together just living and getting to know each other better. But that’s a romantic illusion that wouldn’t suffice to much satisfaction — a day or two with my parents is enough to put one in the nuthouse. I’m not being dramatic, others who know them would attest to the same.
It’s just that I think I’ve undervalued how my father’s illness and the overall passing of time has infected my mental state. I might have never been the ideal employee for my former position, but I found myself constantly thinking about how all this time is being spent trying to sell a software product to make one area of business more effective when here is this time passing by that I could never get back. That’s not just because of my father’s illness, because I think it’s the state of life that they don’t tell you about as a kid, but the state of life that even in the most idyllic of situations is absolutely horrifying if your scratch the thin surface of beauty and contentment. If as a child you dream of living to 100 you forget that at 60 your parents will likely be gone or falling completely apart in the mind and flesh, and at 50 many of your friends and those you have known through your life will have died or grown ill, and at 30 you have 30 more years of your life when you, if you’re lucky, will be in relatively good health before you approach your senior years and live off of all that money you spent those 30 years earning so you wouldn’t have to work every day until your death.
Thus I would like to just tell my parents everything. Well, maybe not about my romantic experiences. Or about the poor choices which landed me in jail with $10,000 drained from my bank account and weekends wearing orange vests and digging up rocks from festival grounds as punishment. But maybe I should tell them about losing my job and frame it as an opportunity to spend more time with them. Only it would not be taken this way — I hear them now, my mom asking what happened, though not really caring what happened, but instead scheming how she would be able to tell this story to her friends at the pool because her entire life was built around telling stories about her successful and impressive children to anyone who would politely listen. Meanwhile my father would say that he was glad that I would be able to spend time at home, but immediately jump into a massive guilt trip of my failure, highlighting how I always seem to fail over and over again, how I haven’t changed, have I?
And it’s true, I haven’t. When all is said and done I’m terrible with responsibility, I’m horribly depressed, as I always have been, with the exception of a few hypomanic productive periods of getting stuff done filled with equal parts poor choices. I’m afraid now at returning to work because there is something fundamentally wrong with me, and that something is the voices of my parents in my mind constantly judging every single thing I do. Telling myself that I’ll fail before I start. And it’s not fair to blame them entirely, but I’m sure a lot of the unbalanced nature of my mind is partially to do with their — unique — style of parenting. Case in point my sister also has her own slew of mental health issues and is constantly wallowing in her own depression, though perhaps she is comforted by a simpler mind, one perhaps with a slightly lower IQ, one free of constant philosophizing which only makes matters worse.
The Fault in Our Stars is, as a quote in the book explains, taken from a Shakespeare quote which says that the faults are not in our stars but instead are within us.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Yet the Fault in Our Stars’ author explains that sometimes the faults are in the stars. That fate and chance too can create fault. In the case of the protagonist, the fault in the stars is the happenstance of her childhood terminal cancer. That indeed is not a fault within her controlled humanity. Yet there are so many other errors of ourselves which can not be overridden by our own minds. If we blame our parents then we must blame their parents and their parents and so on. We like to think we have this grand free will which enables us to make choices about who we are and what we will do next, but in the end we are who we’ve been. I question whether I can defeat the “voices” in my head which sabotage my success day after day, or if I can come to peace with my parents and my ailing father who seemingly wants to see me more often then complains about every little thing when I am able to to visit. I just want more than anything for life to be simple, I could say again, but in my life it never really was. Simple, or at least reversed, to start over, to establish some sort of healthy state of mind before wandering into the depths of adulthood when the only time to pause comes along when you’re taken into a conference room by your boss and HR and told that — as you already knew — it just isn’t working out.