They meant well.
Considering how straight they had both lived thoughout their lives my friends and I must have scared the hell out of them. I was a rebellious child, fascinated with things that caused them great alarm. I was almost the photo negative of my remarkably well behaved older brother. If he wore the white hat, I chased down the black. His friends were honor students. Mine were delinquents.
Growing up I saw my parents as honest people. They worked hard, told the truth and lived with 1950’s ethics inside a 80’s quasi-Babylon. They didn’t cheat on their taxes, swing with the neighbors, or even live above their means. None of the ‘me-decade’ seemed to rub off on them.
I can’t explain where my selfish, blind to consequences behavior stemmed from. Why I was turned on by risk while raised to be satisfied with safety is a mystery. And over the years, my parents were relentless in telling me the truth. About life, politics, sex, money, and certainly about the predictable end to the company I kept.
“You’re going to follow those creeps right down the tubes!”
To be fair, many of my friends were in fact creeps. They lied to each other, got high, cheated on their girlfriends, sold drugs, stole shit, and led all- around dangerous lives for kids in the farm country.
I had every reason to take that warning as the truth.
I realized a few years ago why such a warning made no difference to me. And why I consider it the only lie they ever told me.
I went down first.
Out of all of those jerks I hung out with, I hit the bottom before they did. If they had gone down before me I would have had a warning, some kind of sign that the end was near. That wasn’t how it worked out. They went off to college, trade school, careers, and big guy toys. I didn’t follow them anywhere.
I hit a wall at 19 while they started hitting it big. I went down the tubes alone, and they scored.
I got my shit together, and moved on. I turned my life around – I have no regrets. I put the cork in the bottle and quit getting high, stopped stealing & lying, went back to school and learned to enjoy working 3 jobs. Most of those friends I had turned out ok. More or less a version of the classic American Dream, with all of the emptiness and cynicism that has us both question where the grass is greener from time to time.
They admire my sense of adventure, and what I’ve been able to live inside of my dreams. How I’ve seen the world, and been through things they only hear about in the movies.
I envy them for actually having green grass.
My parents told me the truth as far as they could see it. They were worried about who I was hanging out with and what was likely to go come from it. I, on he other hand, had been worried my whole life that no matter what I did, Life would never turn out. My anxiety that I would never ‘make it’ at anything was the backdrop I lived my years against. Living the way I did in my childhood helped soothe my nerves a bit, even if it drove my family crazy.
I’d love to tell you that the anxiety has gone completely. It hasn’t. I’ve learned to live with it, and use it to create music, art, and compassion. I look into the hearts of the people I deal with and see how many of us are scared to death that life will never really “turn out”. That our relationship, our job, our nation, even life itself is heading down the tubes. Our fear that our world will hit a wall, our society will crumble, our economy will collapse isn’t really all that strange.
Or will it be worse than that?
We tend to think in terms and scenarios that make for great Hollywood fiction. Maybe it will be less worthy of a blockbuster and more like what we are already afraid to tell the truth about. That life will ‘continue on in this petty pace to the last syllable of recorded time’. That we will be just sitting in a middle aged- suburban part of the universe living in a dead end career, walking through the motions, buying our lives from Wal-Mart, and all the while telling ourselves that it’s better than jail. Maybe the great cataclysm isn’t coming to save us from our boredom.
Perhaps we are all waiting for the world to go down the tubes first, so we have a warning.