235. astir


tombstoneI found out about a week and a half ago that my uncle died.

Out of respect for my family, let’s call him Nick.

Nick is my mom’s younger (and only) brother. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that his death was a surprise to any of us, including my mom. When my parents were last out in California, he’d gone missing. Again. This wasn’t the first time he’d disappeared or dropped off the radar for a while. Unfortunately, my uncle led something of a troubled life. That’s not how I’d like to remember him, but it’s how I do remember him.

Growing up, Uncle Nick was something of a byword in my family’s home. That may not be how my parents intended for us to hear it, but the ongoing saga of his life was basically presented to my sisters and me as a cautionary tale.

There but for the grace of God go any of us…

And that’s not to say that my parents weren’t constantly worried about him. Uncle Nick was an alcoholic, a drug user, and a host of other things, so he was in our prayers a lot. The main story that I remember was when he ended up going through the window of the Porsche that hit him after he got out of a taxi on the wrong side of the street while drunk and/or high one night. That trip landed him in the hospital, and also in a heap of trouble.

There was a time when he was going to church and seemed to be turning his life around, but apparently that didn’t last very long. The last my parents heard when they were in California last year was that he was living with some woman, and probably using drugs and alcohol again. It got to the point where they were calling county jails and even morgues to see if he’d turned up.

So when my mom got a call from a number she didn’t recognize about a week and a half ago, she called back and was asked by the woman who answered the phone who the name of the deceased was after identifying herself as calling from the coroner’s office.

This is the story from my mom, as we know it:

Apparently he had been drinking on January 1st, fell and broke his hand. Someone found him on January 2nd, face down (not sure if it was in the street or on the sidewalk), and sleeping. It had been below freezing, and he was just in street clothes—no blanket or sleeping bag. He was able to squeeze the paramedic’s hand when they asked him if he could hear them, but he couldn’t speak. When they moved him he became unresponsive, and died about an hour after he got to the hospital—10:12 am, January 2nd.

It was weird talking to my mom about this, mainly because it felt like talking to someone else about their family member dying. I mentioned this to my therapist in my last session: that as I get further along in identity building and more secure in a sense of authentic self, the less connected I feel to my biological family. And I feel bad about not feeling bad about this. While we share memories, and even a warped sense of humor, since reconnecting with them in the spring of 2013, I’ve struggled to find a sense of belonging with them.

Sadly, it probably comes down to my lack of religious belief. Some may think that a minor thing, but evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity is at the core of my parents’ and sisters’ identities. It’s not for me, and it probably never was.

This discussion led to something else in my last therapy session.

For a while, I’ve been trying to put a finger on why my being single bothers me so much. And as my therapist and I hashed out my feelings about my uncle dying, I hit on this:

I don’t really have any long-term relationships of any kind.

I’m still in touch with a handful of people from college and even from the church I grew up in, but these are largely online friendships. I don’t actually see most of these people anymore.

What bothers me is that for the last 10-15 years, I’ve been watching the people around my put down roots and grow in their relationships and marriages. I know very few people now who are single. But it’s not really just that that bothers me.

It’s the fact that I’m less than a month away from turning 32, and I don’t have any kind of long-term or enduring relationships in my life—including friendships. Some of that can be attributed to changing priorities and life circumstances. Some friends moved away. Others got married and had kids. Neither parties made much effort to keep up the friendship, though it’s probably more accurate to say that many friends gave up trying to make a friendship work with me.

It doesn’t feel great to admit that, but I’ve a sense that it’s true.

So the business of me griping about feeling old, and how now that I’m over 30 no guys are going to want me is less about age. It’s about realizing how old I am and how little I have in the way of relationships compared to others around me.

My housemate Matt is in almost constant contact with his parents and sister who have become like a second family to me. So many friends of mine spend holidays with their families. Their families love their significant others, and vice versa. Et al.

The image that came to mind the other day was of being on a raft, sailing down a river, and passing friends who’ve made homes along the shore.

My fear is that I’ll keep on drifting, sailing on and on without making real connections; that I’ll end up like my uncle, alone, having burned his bridges behind him.

Let’s sponge away the writing on that possible future.


5 thoughts on “235. astir

  1. Ain't No Shrinking Violet

    First thing first…you are NOT old at 30! Yeah, I too felt I was old at 30, and now feel really old at 41…until a 60 year old lady read me the riot act (in a nice way) for calling myself “middle aged.” If you’re in your 30s and physically healthy, you’re in the *prime* of your life. 🙂

    Here’s how I, a stranger on the internet, sees your situation. You’ve cut the fat and the life-sucking relationships out of your life…relationships that no longer suit you or serve you. You are now open for high-quality relationships…it can take some time to find and cultivate them, but you stand at the ready for such an encounter. This is ideal. It would be worse if all your time was sucked up by relationships that devalue you (like your super-religious family that disapproves of you being gay). You have the chance to pursue your own enjoyments for a time while looking for either friends or a partner who can truly value what you have to offer. That takes time and energy, and you must hold onto your patience.

    I am someone who is married and has family, but I assure you that you can feel just as lonely when you’re surrounded by people as you can when you’re actually alone. Loneliness is part of the human condition at times and it’s a state of mind. When no one appreciates you or loves you, love yourself…it’s an art to learn how to do it well, but it’s worth the investment.

    • David

      Thanks, ANSV. I appreciate your saying what you said. It’s not so much that I feel old. Intellectually, I know I’m technically at my “prime.” It’s more that it feels like I’m starting over just a few weeks shy of my 32nd birthday. I came out gay at age 25. Sure, there are people who’ve come out much later in life; and there’s the benefit of experience in coming out mid-20s. But I also came out atheist at age 28, and I’m still in the process of rebuilding an identity after burning the old one down. And I’m looking around at friends my age who seem more settled, who aren’t experiencing this level of violent emotional and psychological upheaval. It feels as if so much time has been wasted, and as an atheist who believes that this is the only life we have, I don’t get that time back. And I really didn’t have a choice in how that “lost” time was spent. No time is wasted, of course, if one can benefit from it; but I will have fewer years now with a future boyfriend/husband, fewer years to build and enjoy a life, and so on.

      I guess the moral of this story can be summed up in the words of Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

      • Ain't No Shrinking Violet

        I understand. I’ve been an agnostic (verging on atheist) for only 4 months, after 41 years of devout catholicism. I feel way too old to be going through such a tremendous paradigm shift and it is a HUGE struggle to adjust (I don’t see others my age struggling with this stuff). I know you had the added difficulty of coming out as gay in a fundamentalist family.

        I too look back and think I wasted 41 years of my life in a cult that sold me nothing but lies. I don’t know if everyone has this strong sense of “wasted time” or if only a few of us get to deal with it, but it does create a sense of urgency that can be hard to cope with. Yet some things in life cannot be rushed, nor do we always get to have what we so desperately want. I guess in the meantime we have to, as the quote said, “get busy living.” Good luck with all of it.

    • David

      Guilty as charged, Pink. However, as I said to NASV, it’s less about chronological age and more about the feeling of urgency, that I’m so far behind everyone else at age 32 than others at this point in their lives. I’ve done so much later in life than most: came out gay at age 25, atheist at 28, and now I’m attempting to start a new career at age 32. You’ve done so much more in your 36 years than I could ever hope to do in that amount of time.

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