Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chapter 77: Turnaround

On October 24th, 2007, I was gainfully employed, living in New York with my girlfriend, our cat, and a random homeless film student we grabbed off the street to subsidize our rent. My future was looking bright. I had recently been promoted at work and was making and developing what I thought were the meaningful professional relationships that would carry me through to the next phase of my career, whatever that was. Meanwhile, all I had to look forward to were Friday nights at the Hop Devil Grill or Crocodile Lounge; an endless parade of mirthful excess, debauchery, and the occasional weekend in the Hamptons; rooftop parties; MTA fare increases; my landlord being a jerk; and falling asleep mostly every night to the dulcet tones of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, if not the unpleasant drone of hipsters drinking in the courtyard behind our building.

Twenty-four hours later, I found out that I was being laid off. That the next day, Friday the 26th, would be my last day at work. And that I would spend it training the intern who would be replacing me.

Six hours after that, I was drunk.

Instantly, the future I had once believed so certain and inevitable had evaporated. I didn't know if I could afford to pay my rent the next month, let alone make it to the end of my lease. Money had always been tight, if inconsequential; what was the point in saving money if your life was to be intolerable? But now that my income was gone, money was abruptly paramount, an all-consuming worry that would dominate my every waking moment. I quickly said goodbye to Friday nights at Hop Devil; bid a hearty farewell to those rooftop parties; and came to dread those pernicious MTA fare increases all the more, not as insignificant annoyances, but as evidence of the duplicity of our government, run as it was by a sinister corporate oligarchy, and the encroaching degradation of our civic and social values. And, all of a sudden, I was contemplating alternate career paths and lifestyles, going travelling, leaving the city, leaving my friends, completely abandoning this life I had so carefully constructed and cultivated. I was adrift, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Everything had been turned around in just a few short hours.

On May 26th, 2010, I experienced a similarly dramatic if slightly less life-altering reversal. At 10:00 that morning, I was a sweaty, smelly, dirty, hungry, uncivilized mountain man; horrifying to contemplate, even worse to behold. Four hours later, I was in Baltimore, wondering why I was waiting for their impossibly dysfunctional public transportation system to work when I could just as easily walk where I was going. Then I was buying deodorant and some industrial strength air-freshener. Four hours after that, I had showered, been reintroduced to my girlfriend's sister—"Oh my God! Look at you!" Liz had said in greeting, a deeply concerned look on her face—devoured an entire pizza to the apparent delight of some impressionable public school children, and finally found myself sitting in the upper deck at Camden Yards, watching the Oakland Athletics completely embarrass the hometown Orioles. I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, when he suddenly found himself all cleaned up and dining amongst the Bruce Ismays and Molly Browns in the first class lounge. Or, alternately, like when I lost my job, only the total opposite.

Twenty-four hours after that, I had caught up on mostly all of my favorite TV shows; showered again; done my laundry, twice; eaten almost everything I considered edible in Liz's refrigerator; discovered my achilles tendon had tightened up so much I could barely walk; and unceremoniously thrown my hiking boots out on the curb.

Twenty-four hours after that, I had enjoyed a hug-filled reunion with Megan; eaten a giant burrito at Chipotle; drank almost two liters of soda; eaten most of several small gourmet pizzas; drank a bunch of beer; and participated in a drunken sing-along of Oasis's "Wonderwall" during which Liz, her friends and I had all inexplicably screamed the lyrics in Megan's bemused and startled face.

Forty-eight hours after that, I had eaten crab dip and ground beef on chili nachos, made pizza and guacamole, drank copious amounts of beer, eaten several veggie burgers, fallen asleep in a drunken torpor, and then woke up to find Megan's arm draped over my chest and her lips brushing my neck, her face nuzzled against my cheek.

And the day after that was more of the same.

And then it was June 1st, and it was time to go back.

And I was saying goodbye to Liz and her roommate Kristie, neither of whom could have been nicer or more accommodating. And then Meg was driving me back to Harpers Ferry, where I picked up a maildrop from my sister. Which was way too big. Meg and I looked around fruitlessly for a place to get lunch. Eventually, we ended up paying the six bucks to get into the main parking lot, then found a picnic table where I heated up a package of pre-cooked Indian food my sister had sent me.

And it was over all too soon. I felt like there had been so much left unsaid, and such a gulf of experience between us that I wanted to share, that I wanted to tell her about. But couldn't. Because there wasn't enough time. Because every time I looked in her blue—or are they hazel?—eyes, all my thoughts seemed to fizzle away, and I was left with the inexplicable and uncontrollable desire just to kiss her, and never let go, and to bathe in the warmth of her affection, and to die, contented. Happy.

And then a shuttle came, taking people back down into the park. Megan and I hurriedly said our goodbyes, and then I literally had to run to catch the bus. And Megan waved, remaining rooted to the spot where I left her, until my bus turned a corner and drove out of sight.

I nearly had a nervous breakdown later that afternoon, and only made it nine miles before dark.

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