Start Again


It's nice here with a view of the trees
Eating with a spoon?
They don't give you knives?
'Spect you watch those trees
blowing in the breeze
We want to see you lead a normal life

--Peter Gabriel, "Lead A Normal Life"

They fan out in all directions looking for any hint of resistance. Their aim is to snuff out that resistance in order to best adjust themselves to the painting on the wall. Everyone seems to admire and understand the painting. It must be the goal. You want to join the club. The membership rolls are far and wide. If you join the club you can be happy and at peace with yourself and the world around you.

I always knew I wasn't normal
I never really wanted to be normal
I was too afraid to be anything else

The potential to lead a normal life came to me in 1986. After two years of searching for myself, from the Arizona deserts to the back roads of New England, I was tired. Everything tasted like disappointment. Living with my father while going to college, it seemed to come together. I would get a degree, in personnel management of all things, and go on to a career in business. This was the plan.

Coming home from classes I noticed a young woman in the parking lot at our apartment complex. I would see her fairly often in the afternoons, getting out of her Datsun with a satchel of books and a hurried expression on her face. I thought she was beautiful and incredibly sexy. She had a soft, round shape to her, long dark brown hair and big round eyes. Being too shy to approach her, I decided to leave a rose under the windshield wiper of her car along with a note. I gave it the air of mystery, and since I also drove a Datsun in those days, I told her I was the orange Datsun parked two spots over.

Thank you for the rose, it was a very nice surprise
I'm Lisa. Are you really a car?
Call me, here is my phone number

She was three years older than I was. She hailed from New Jersey and was working on her doctorate in psychology at Clark University. We went out to dinner. We went back to her place and talked all night. She would later tell me she was curious as to why I hadn't "made a move" on her. I told her I didn't want to overstep my bounds. The truth was that I didn't know how to make a move. I was twenty years old and my only experience with women were two short term girlfriends with whom I had almost no physical relationship and a drunken roll in the hay with a girl in college. She was twenty-three and had recently broke up with her fiance, who had been her boyfriend since high school. He broke off the engagement by telling her that he realized he was gay and had recently been having affairs with a number of men.

We ended up staying together for three and a half years

The first year was the design plan for a normal life. I would finish college and she would get her doctorate. We would both get good jobs, buy a house, have children and all that other good stuff. Other than this guy who looked exactly like Sting, who was chasing her for a while, and another woman who drove a Dodge Dart and took a shine to me, our relationship never seemed to be threatened by outside interests, other than a certain girl I knew that made Lisa very nervous whenever she came around or her name came up.

Lisa ended up dropping out of Clark University and becoming the house manager at a facility that cared for the mentally ill. I dropped out of college, became assistant manager at a gas station and then went through a number of jobs before becoming a mail carrier. It was still supposed to be a normal life. We adjusted.

I woke up to strange sounds coming from the living room

It was four o'clock in the morning. It was my twenty-fourth birthday. There were gifts for me from Lisa, wrapped nicely and sitting on the end table next to Lisa and this eighteen year old kid with an orange afro that she worked with. They were both naked and she was going down on him rather enthusiastically. I stood in the hallway of our condo, frozen for a moment in time, not knowing what to say or do. I stood and watched. For how long I cannot remember, but they went through a number of position changes on the floor while I looked on silently.

Emotionally, I felt nothing. I felt nauseous, but that was about it. While they began their post-coital conversation, I went back to bed. I stared up at the ceiling and came to a realization. Our relationship had been so empty for so long and I never paid attention or cared. The first year of our relationship had been passionate and filled with promise of things to come. Not long after that it became a matter of habit.

I've got no memory of anything at all

The next morning she made breakfast and gave me a card with the gifts, smiling as she wished me a happy birthday. There was something wrong with my expression. I was cold. I was real cold. Whatever was in those wrapped boxes, I cannot remember. It didn't matter. All I remember was her expression when she realized that I knew. We sat there at stared at each other with empty expressions for a long time.

She apologized and tried to say things to make me feel better. We admitted that our relationship had not been fulfilling to either of us for a long time. I wanted to work things out. She had no interest in that. She promised not to have her lover come to the condo again and that we would fulfill the last three months on the lease while we tried to find other living accomodations.

Never, ever, ever live with your "ex."

For a while it was okay, but then it got crazy. Her lover was living with his mom and they had nowhere to go for their romps. They had been going to motels, but she insisted she could no longer afford that while looking for a place to live. They started sneaking into the condo late at night. While I slept in the guest bedroom, they would come in late at night, giggling and trying to be quiet as they went into what had been "our" bedroom. I felt myself at the edge of insanity.

Eventually, we did go our seperate ways, but it was messy. She moved while I was at work, leaving her half of the rent unpaid for three months. The lease was in my name only. She had run up nearly four thousand dollars in charges on our mutual credit card. Foolishly, I had applied for a credit card using both our names to make sure we were approved. The problem was that I pretended we were married and she could not be held to the charges under her first name and my last name. Going to court was not an option. The entire application had been fraudulent because I said we were married.

Here is your normal life, brother
May it serve you well

We tend to think of our experiences as unique. In many ways they are. At the same time we also tend to blame ourselves for things going wrong in our lives. While Lisa and I had both allowed our relationship to become mundane and passionless, the fact that we never talked about it was also a shared problem. It would have been better if we went our seperate ways years earlier, but hindsight loves to smack us around with that kind of thought. She bore responsibility for bankrupting me and I later learned the orange afro kid hadn't been her only other lover. Yet I blamed myself for years, telling myself that I hadn't been good enough to keep her interest. I had failed in the relationship. I had let it go to seed.

For the next few years I would try to force relationships to work. Trying to make up for my perceived failings, I pushed very hard and ignored everything other than the desired end result. I shoved rules and regulations down the throat of any woman I came into contact with. When I did get involved with someone again, I pushed for an engagement and followed her around to make sure she wasn't doing anything with any other boys. I even tried to impose a curfew on her. It boggles my mind that Justine stayed with me as long as she did. She said she loved me even though I was creeping her out.

The day Justine told me she never wanted to see me again
Was the day I killed myself
The patterns unfolded too quickly