One of the worst parts about feeling this way is knowing I’ve felt this way before. Way before. Like, toddler before. At some point, it passes and things go back to normal for me. I would hope I don’t have to clarify, but this honestly doesn’t apply to anything that has happened recently or regarding anyone in particular. It’s just something that happens to my brain when there are long breaks and holidays. I don’t have any facts to pull from, but my guess would be that most human relationships and interactions don’t last a lifetime. Most relationships and interactions don’t even start. But people accept it and go about their business. I seem to be incapable of doing that in a timely manner, whether it’s a family member or friend or romantic interest. I want to know why the person didn’t choose to stick around or want me in their life or want me involved in anyway. I want to know what other people have that I don’t. Why are they unhappy with me, specifically? I want to know what other people look like and if they have something I don’t. Am I that uninteresting? Am I that ugly? Is my voice weird? Is it my teeth? Is it because I’m so skinny? Is it possibly because I don’t drink anymore? I go over every personal flaw and character defect I can think of. It does nothing for me, if only serving to worsen the problem (like posting this long thing), but I continue to go down the same “thought rabbit-hole.” It just leads to more questions with unknowable answers. Frankly, it makes me go insane: I become an insane person. Full Jane Eyre “…veins running fire…heart beating faster than I can count its throbs” insanity.
But what do I do about any of it? I don’t take a look in the mirror and decide I’d look better with a haircut. I will acknowledge that I am too skinny and need to workout more. I might even try to workout. I’ll give it a good go for a few months and I even see results in my physical appearance. But I’m still miserable inside and eventually I give up on myself and fall back into the same patterns of thought and inaction. At least I don’t drink anymore.
I’ve heard the suggestions and done most of them: I still go to therapy, paying out of pocket. I’ve gone outside. I’ve worked out. I’ve mapped out my day. I quit drinking. I’ve met new people. I’ve done full workups at the VA, VA counseling, and scans and scans and scans. I’ve been shoveled meds from the VA that made me feel like a robot living underwater for the few months I was taking them about seven years ago. I’ve listened to music. I’ve made music. I’ve played music. I’ve made art. I’ve started and finished projects. I’ve meditated. I’ve focused on my breath. I write. I built a fucking mini-ramp in my garage so I could skateboard whenever I want. But, at the end of the day, I’m left with what I started with: my own body and my own thoughts. And the thoughts can be scary and I only share them with a handful of people and my therapist.
I’ve done all the things I feel like a person is supposed to do in life: I graduated high school, barely. I served in a war, as part of the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen, as a Rifleman in the United States Marine Corps and was occasionally (read: rarely) recognized for being good at it. I still can’t believe how badly I wanted to be a part of history, to serve in a war like my grandfather. I went to college immediately after, starting with classes I never progressed to or passed in high school. Taking algebra with teenagers at a community college has a specific humbling quality to it, but the thought of Edmonds and all he’d done before the Marine Corps encouraged me, as well as a dream I had about my dead uncle standing behind me making sure I was paying attention in class, even as I was going through a divorce. Anyway, I majored in my favorite subject: English language and literature, and even minored for fun in Creative Writing. I’ve volunteered in high schools. I went on to get a Master’s Degree in Teaching, while riding my bike a total of twelve miles back and forth each day, washing dishes at a restaurant, and eventually buying a car. I’ve moved so many times it’s exhausting just to think about. I was married once. I’ve since had girlfriends who were great, whom I could honestly never say a bad word about. And I’ve had girlfriends who felt great for a little while, but ended up not so great for me in the end (and let’s just not talk about her). I’ve put myself out there is what I mean. I’ve embraced the bad feelings with the good and accepted that that’s just how it is with some things. But the lows are so low, man. Like, shit. They are low.
I became a high school teacher to not only teach my favorite subject that has added so much fulfillment and purpose to my life, but also to help students who felt like I did in school and to return the favor for a teacher who made me feel like I mattered to her when it felt like I didn’t matter to anyone. But how I felt in school is the same way I feel now, at least in general if you average the last few months to a year: defeated, inadequate, de/undervalued, broken, done, and just plain over it. I find myself only interacting with students and my dogs, and occasionally a woman I met, talk to, and meet up with when she’s in Portland, Oregon (Can love bloom during a Portland Protest?). But lately, I feel like everything that the students and my dogs love me for is a lie. I’m not happy-go-lucky. I’m not funny. I’m not smart. I’m miserable. It’s an act. I tricked you. I don’t have any answers. I can’t help them. Everything the students love me for, in my mind, is bad teaching: The soapbox moments where I wax poetic about the Beats, Tim O’Brien, and David Foster Wallace. The finding out what music they listen to and what shows they watch. Videos to leave them with before long breaks. What they wish they knew about teaching and teachers. What they wish teachers knew about them. That’s not teaching. That’s not going to get them to the career or life they want. That’s not going to help them be happy. That’s just me trying to feel good about myself and the things I like. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I’m going through the motions of life and work and I’m repeating the same patterns. And I can’t help anyone.
And where did all of these bullshit feelings come from? I was confident, overly so, just eight (maybe ten?) years ago. But the last few years, these terrible feelings are finally catching up with me big time. Losing somebody, an embodiment of what an intelligent man is supposed to be, whom I actively tried to emulate, hasn’t helped. Are most of my problems really all from those first few years of my life? Most books I read and professionals I see seem to think so. But where’s the growth on my end? Cause I’m fucking trying. I’m fucking trying, you asshole. I’ve done the things and I’ve sought the help. To quote one of my favorite bands, “Where is the future that was promised [me]?”
I was born into foster care, most of which I don’t remember, other than I was scared and I have a picture in my mind that the house looked exactly like the Amityville Horror House. I’ve shown a picture of the Amityville house to people who knew what the foster home looked like, and they confirmed that’s what it looked like. I was given back to my mother. I was given back to my father. How many times back and forth, I don’t remember. But, at one point, I think it was more about custody than adoption. I was left at daycares overnight when my father didn’t or couldn’t pick me up. When I was eighteen, I went back and visited the nice daycare lady who kept me overnight when I was a kid and made me real (actually real!) green eggs and ham for breakfast the next morning because I loved when she read that book to me so much the day before. I couldn’t understand how something from a book was right in front of me. I also didn’t know what food coloring was. The lady remembered me by name, all those years later, and I still remember hers: Linda. She called me “Little David Addigator,” even when I met her at eighteen. I was obsessed with alligators and crocodiles as a kid but couldn’t pronounce most Ls. So they were all addigators to me and everyone around me. She seemed relieved about something when I met her as an adult, calling her entire family into the living room to come see me. They remembered me. How many kids’ faces and names had they forgotten over the years? Why did I stand out? Linda said she was selling the house soon and she was so happy I stopped by before they moved and that she thought about me a lot. But, in another foggy memory, I was mistreated in another daycare by a different adult, forced to sit by myself in silence while other children played. All because I made grooves in the carpet with my fingers while waiting for someone to pick me up and take me home. I was essentially in trouble for not being able to sit still while waiting for whoever was so late picking me up. I don’t remember being picked up that day. Or, rather, I remember someone trying to pick me up but wasn’t allowed to take me home with them. It’s foggy. When I was left there overnight, I slept downstairs in a furnished basement by myself, if I slept at all. In sad, rain running down the window, movie fashion, I remember looking out of the windows for a long time on my little tippy toes in velcro shoes, hoping to see a truck pull up and take me home. I still remember the lady’s name: Sheri. I remember it and I’ll always remember it. And not the nice Sheri whom my aunt and the rest of my family knew. This lady didn’t like me and I was only four. But, I wonder if this lady’s animosity towards whoever left me there was consciously or subconsciously taken out on me. I’ll never know. As much as I’d still love to visit her and spit in her face, alas, her daycare is now the Tacoma First Church of God on Canyon Road, in between 84th and 86th St. Sure would be a shame if someone burned it down. She probably doesn’t even have anything to do with it anymore. Sold and moved on. Later on in life, if someone forgot to pick me up from school or I had to walk home, I went home with that same feeling I had when I was left as a kid: How did someone just forget about me?
People in my family always say that I have such a good memory about things that happened when I was so young. And that’s basically true. I remember lots of good things, but they don’t bring back the same physiological feelings as the bad ones do. And, more importantly, I can control the good memories. But, yeah, I do remember a lot. Eventually, I was handed off to relatives and friends of relatives. And I was finally adopted by an aunt and uncle. But before and after, there’s a lot I don’t remember and probably don’t want to. Mostly, I remember things that hurt “child me” in some way, whether mentally or physically. But I’ll focus on mental. A big one that stands out is the last day I saw my biological mother when I was a child. The last time I saw her look how I, even now in dreams, still remember her looking and continue to hold on to: tall, skinny, long black hair, pretty, a soft spoken floaty voice, gentle, and graceful movements. Among many other things ranging from dead friends, issues with food, and life in general, this memory is something that pops up in therapy often:
There’s a small room in the state capitol in Olympia, Washington. Or, it’s somewhere in some other courthouse, but there’s a room that had a playhouse I hid behind in order to avoid seeing my mother and her seeing me. I’d learned that just closing my eyes wasn’t a good enough way to hide from my dad. But I used to try. In my memory and in this room, I had to choose between my biological mother and an aunt, right then and there, and I don’t think it was the first time. I do know now, that this was the last time: The paperwork for formal adoption was getting finalized soon. A previous time, I was in a different room with a two way mirror: with my mother one moment, my aunt the next, and I think both of them on one occasion. It’s possible these were two different days entirely. Regardless, my aunt says the thing with the two way mirror happened at some point. But, on this particular day in Olympia, there was a finality to it. I could feel that a choice was being made. A decision was coming. And I didn’t understand any of it. None of it. Part of me, sure, I’m sure I wanted to hang out with my cousins, like any kid would. But how could a kid, no older than four, understand any of the finer details of adoption? What it might do? How it might affect him later on? People just kept telling me that I’d be better off living with someone else and that I couldn’t stay with my biological father or mother. How could a kid, no older than four, understand the complexities of mental illness of his mother and/or the alcoholism of his father? Even just those concepts alone are not graspable to a small child. Fucking ABCs look like particle physics at that age. I do remember praying for my father to stop drinking, but that was simply so that I could stay with him. Although, that part might be made up and it doesn’t matter anyway because god’s not real. But, anyway, I was hiding in the corner, avoiding my mother. I think one of my cousins was climbing on the playhouse roof trying to get to me, thinking it was a game I was playing. Only moments before, I’d been playing with my cousins and having a blast. I think part of me, hiding in that corner, wanted to be with my mom. Fuck it, yo. I was just a kid. Of course I did. But I couldn’t make myself come out from that corner. I remember feeling frozen in place. I didn’t know if I could go through with it, at least that’s how I interpret it now. I didn’t know my mother was unstable, so of course I wanted to see her. I can remember my mother’s fragile voice as it called me while I panicked behind the playhouse, not knowing what to do. I’ve always loved playhouses, I don’t know why. I even ended up writing a sad short story about one in college, without a conscious thought about my adoption. It came out of nowhere, but it also came from an ungodly amount of alcohol. Undergrad was a fine balance of writing drunk and editing sober, over the course of a few days or weeks. Anyway, someone in that capitol room told me my mother was almost there and I hid. I don’t even know if I was fully verbal yet, but I tended to hide from strangers and couldn’t look them in the eyes. I still struggle with eye contact. I have no memory of ever coming out from behind the playhouse. The movie just stops playing. Only bits and pieces. Is all of this a false memory? Then why does it feel like it’s happening again, right now? My neck tightens. My stomach hurts. It won’t hold food. My jaw clenches. And, if I let them, my eyes water.
When I visited my mother when I was eighteen, fourteen years later, getting ready to head to Iraq, I discovered that she lived no more than ten minutes away from me and my parents (my aunt and uncle whom I now call Mom and Dad). I felt all the same things: My neck tightened. My stomach hurt. It wouldn’t hold food. And in the pictures I took and threw away, my jaw was clenched. I hadn’t seen her since that day in Olympia fourteen years earlier. I hadn’t heard her voice since I ran away sometime in junior high and called her number from a payphone. But that visit at eighteen is not something I want to talk about. Just to say, it wasn’t my mother. There was no mother left, at least not what I remembered or was holding on to. But I know that parts of a mother were there when I was a kid because I had to have felt some of them, or I wouldn’t remember them at all now. Thankfully, in that process, I found a half sister I didn’t know anything about who brought some sense that being functional is possible, no matter who or what pulled you out of nonexistence.
People can say it was a long time ago. That kids are resilient. If that’s how you want to think about childhood, and that works for you, then cool. But that’s not how it works for me, so please don’t tell me it should. And there’s obviously more to whatever problems I have than just this small little period of early childhood development. There’s military stuff, college roommate stuff, and other things that come up at random that I can’t prevent or predict. For example, in grad school, I remember researching foster care and the disconnect it sometimes has with the education system (my choice of topic) and learning that former foster children are twice as likely as war veterans to develop post traumatic stress disorder. I think I read that statistic for a few hours. Time just stopped and I realized I’d been reading that same sentence over and over again. So read into that however you want. There was another moment in community college, well after my time in the Marine Corps, where I learned about Harlow’s rhesus monkeys and his experiments with maternal contact. I had to leave the room. Not dramatic. I think I pretended to go to the bathroom. But I couldn’t stay in that classroom.
Maybe some people feel this way too. I don’t know. But stuff like this always comes up around the holidays or long breaks when I find myself stuck in my own head and living in isolation, because something about me still obviously isn’t right. And I guess this is healthier than drinking. And I bounce back like I always do. But for some reason, right now, it feels like it’s write and post this, or drink.