And some years later he needed to rest.
"Is that how you see it?"
"Really the only way to look at it. The alternative isn't one I'm willing to consider."
"Quitting. I can't quit."
"Then there would be no point to it all."
1986. It was a very good year in a lot of ways. In a lot of other ways it was the flawed foundation of a life plan destined to fall apart. In those days he was quite sure there was a single road into the future. He had the girl. She was a great girl. He was back in college working towards a degree in something he actually wanted to do. He would finish his education and go on to a career teaching history to kids. She would complete her doctorate in behavioral psychology. They would get married. Maybe they would have a kid or two of their own. It was a blueprint. The blueprint made no sense. On the surface it seemed to make sense. His mind saw steps towards a goal. If one step failed the house of cards fell apart. When anything failed to go the way he believed it was supposed to he became angry and despondent. Which made it even harder to deal with when he found himself purposely sabotaging the plan he was supposed to believe in.
It was a double life. In one life he was settled in with this perfect woman playing house, studying together, making love together, and making plans together. In the other life he was running around partying with high school girls who were always grateful for the alcohol and drugs he and his friends brought to the table. In this other life he was engaged in criminal activities, more for the thrill of it than the profit. He lied to his perfect girlfriend and she lied to him. He slept around on his perfect girlfriend and she slept around on him. He pretended to love her and she pretended to love him.
Perfect doesn't exist.
When the perfect life fell apart he went off the deep end. He did things he would later be unable to completely recollect. He would deceive his best friend and his best friend would deceive him. They slept with the same women and lied to each other about it. They would lie to each other and con each other and each had plans to sell out the other if they ever got caught in their more questionable activities. They screwed over their other friends until all they really had was each other. And they never even had that.
All he wanted was to find someone who would love him. It was such a pathetic quest he couldn't bring himself to accept it was all he really wanted. The quest became an obsession. The obsession made him angry. To be seeking something you refuse to admit you desire can do that to you. When he took his own life it was the first time he admitted to himself that he wanted to be in love. More than that he wanted to believe that someone could actually be in love with him. He was quite convinced that was impossible. He was too pathetic. He was an asshole. He was a liar, a cheat and a coward. He would never really know what it was like to be in love and that, coupled with his other failings and the dark road he'd been travelling, made life unbearable and therefore not worth continuing. All his blueprints for success had fallen apart. It was time to die.
Seventeen years later he found himself explaining to someone that he was taking a break. He was on a minor league rehab assignment in a place where he didn't belong. He would return to the city he called home soon. He was restoring himself. It was a process he knew well. He just hadn't taken it seriously before. He'd always tried to rush himself back into the lineup, back into the big leagues, back into the spotlight. Now he really needed to get serious about that break. Minimizing stress. Minimizing commitments. Learning to relax. Learning to breathe.
And eventually, learning to fly all over again. Eventually. When the time was truly right.
Late in the summer of 1994 a woman named Chris took him to a concert. She walked outside with him after he become overwhelmed and sat with him. She showed him the scars on her arms from her own suicide. She told him he was feeling overwhelmed because he hadn't gotten used to empathy, something death had given him before sending him back to life. The ability to feel the emotions of all those around you can be overpowering, especially in a large emotional crowd. She told him she understood. She repeated a line from a dream he'd been having without him ever having told her about it. Then she told him she loved him.
He would date women at a fevered pace for the next year, fascinating them because he sought neither of the things men usually seek from women. He didn't want to bed them. He didn't want to be their boyfriend. He just wanted the moment. He told them he was waiting for something. He told them he didn't know what that something was.
Then came a relationship with a woman that seemed likely to last. She had a young daughter. They both told him they loved him. And then he moved along. He became entangled with a woman whose mental state seemed to unravel the longer they stayed together. She was in love with him and told him she couldn't handle knowing he was waiting for something. Waiting for something else. Not willing to settle down with her. She couldn't possess him. She tried to kill herself because she thought that would help her understand him. That would make her like him. It only made her lose her connection with sanity.
"I have to keep moving."
"Do you even know where you're going?"
"If I knew where I was going the journey wouldn't be worth taking."
The biggest misstep he ever took was when he found that something he was looking for. Because it turned out to be a woman he came to the quick conclusion that she was the woman of his dreams. She was the woman from his dreams, but she wasn't supposed to become romance's end game. It wasn't even supposed to be a romance and never became one. It became something much more, something it would take him years to understand. As each life comes into contact with another life it has an impact on some level with that other life. Sometimes we don't even know what the impact was or that there was an impact at all. He needed to move to a new city and call it home for more than the weather. He was going there for more than a new romance. By the time he moved he'd had enough romance to write scripts for a full season of Lifetime movies. No one ever quite understood why they all loved him more after he left than when he was there.
"I have to leave you because I am in love with you."
That was almost always the reason they gave when they walked away from him. Always lingering just long enough to see how he would react. Waiting. Waiting to understand what that something was he always seemed focused on.
"Who did you used to be? You know, before..."
"I was a thief. A damned good one, to tell you the truth."
"You ever get caught?"
He smiled. "Not until I caught myself. Took myself to The Chair."
"Who knows," he shrugged. "I might just be melodramatic."
"About killing yourself?"
"No. That much I'm quite serious about."
"What do you do these days?"
"I counsel suicidals, juvenile delinquents and girls who have been taken advantage of by older guys who plied them with drugs and alcohol."
"Seriously. Kind of a cosmic joke."
Somewhere now I find myself on the edges of where I once was. I am on the outside looking in. I am standing on the sidelines, under the bleachers where the cameras and the lights cannot find me. I am fishing in a secret spot in the middle of nowhere while the universe burns, unnoticed, trying to remember where I lost control, how I drove myself off the road and let my pride take me away from the path I needed to travel. All at once I was standing too close to the fire. Everyone has their weaknesses. I was unable to truly admit I had mine, although I made noble attempts to act like I knew I did.
A year ago, as I drove north to shelter, I turned off the highway to find some gas for my car. The gas station advertised turned out to be imaginary and I found myself lost on an unfamiliar road too tired to remember the way back to the highway. On an overpass were spray painted the words, "You can't save them all asshole."
It was the lesson I needed in that moment.
We can still save the rest.
No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn