Oakland was… hard…
When I bought my ticket to California, I bought a one-way. I wanted the thrill of not knowing what was next, and maybe entertained the idea that God would do something special. But that’s not really what happened. At least not in Oakland.
My friend Adam was going to Mexico for the week. He was gracious enough to let me stay in his flat for as long as I needed. I had no idea how long that would be. I had texted a fellow bohemian friend of mine, asking if she wanted to trek up the coast, but she couldn’t pick me up till Thursday. That was four days away with nothing planned in between. That’s okay. I could entertain myself. In fact, it might be good for me to be alone… right?
Little fact for you: I grew up in California. Right in the Bay Area. So extended family and old friends reside there. I could reach out to any of them. That would be a wise investment of my time with four days of nothing to do.
But there was something stubborn in me. I didn’t want help. I didn’t want a hand out. And for some reason, reaching out to family felt like that?
My mother texted me multiple times to hang out with this person or that that person. I turned them all down because I didn’t want something given to me. I wanted to exist outside of my family. Is that weird? Am I the only one that does this? It’s like I pull away just because of family association, and I don’t have a good reason.
The end result was a lot of alone time right off of Grand Avenue in the heart of Oakland. I thought it would be good for me. It wasn’t.
Back when dating my ex, I shut down my analytical mind. Any time I turned inward, lots of questions would come up about our relation, and I didn’t have answers. And every time I brought them up with my ex, it threatened our relationship.
So trying to find a resolution with my partner was not an option. But neither was letting them brew beneath the surface. I’m not one to let emotions and thoughts billow inside myself and not let them out. I have to. It’s this weird thing. I don’t understand till it’s outside of my body. But every time they left my body, the person I loved was hurt. In the end, I had unresolved cognitive dissonance. Normally, if my external world was too much, which it can be often, I would retreat inside myself. My internal world was safe. But now it wasn’t. Now I had to avoid it. And I couldn’t engage in the external world because that wasn’t safe either. I couldn’t invest in relationships outside of my boyfriend because I didn’t know how they would react. I had been hurt too many times and was tired of gambling if a person would be okay with me.
So what did I do? Watched a lot of Netflix. The result? Emotional constipation and terror of being alone with the backlog of emotional buildup.
That’s what confronted me in Oakland. I was trapped in an apartment, all by myself. I couldn’t hide in the social engagement of friends. I couldn’t dwell with myself. All I could do was squirm on the couch and feel utterly alone.
Here’s the thing about being alone. If you’re okay with yourself, being alone is great. Why? Because you like being with you. You don’t need a distraction cause you think you’re pretty awesome. But refuse to pick yourself and it’s like being trapped in a room with an uncle you never got along with. And that was me, and I couldn’t handle it.
I did everything in my power to avoid that space.
Bike all of San Francisco (I’m not kidding. I literally biked all of it. I wanted to die.) Hide in all cool coffee shops and read books. Watch Netflix. Go to a bath house…
Now I will say this, and it really only comes out of attempting to salvage any level of dignity. I didn’t sleep with anyone in the bath house. I just walked around a ton of men that wanted to have sex, cause that’s better?
The point is, I couldn’t be alone with myself. Something had happened in me, and I didn’t know how to confront it.
You would think that after all the hope and love over the past few weeks, I would be okay. But I wasn’t. It all vanished when faced with myself. The one reprieve would come from the last place I expected it–family.
My extended family isn’t always easy, and that’s the case on either side. Drama has built up over the years. A lot of it out of any one’s control. But we’re left with the bill regardless.
When my cousin came to pick me up for a hockey game, it felt like more duty than delight.
Here’s the thing about my cousins. I never felt like I was enough growing up. I always wanted the approval of my cousins. I was the oldest, but always wanted an older sibling. I did everything in my power to try and get the approval of my cousins, but it seemed like I was always a nuisance. Now I was going to spend the entire evening with them. And to top it off, my cousins’ dad was coming too.
Why don’t I say uncle? That’s a great question! You ask the best questions. It’s like I give them to you. Although he’s actually the one I’m most directly related to by blood, I’ve always been closer to my cousins and their mother. We always joke that we got her in the divorce.
But when I went to the game, although I hadn’t seen my cousins in years, there was no effort. Something had changed in me, maybe just age or exhaustion, where I wasn’t trying any longer to get approval. I just wanted to connect. And there’s something about family that says, “Well, we’re stuck with each other. Might as well make this work. Let’s not play games and let’s not waste time with stupid small talk.” I like that. It gives me a release. Normally I’m the guy that’s analyzing every question and interaction, worried I’ll do something stupid to jeopardize a relationship. But you can’t break blood.
So there in the stands of a roller rink, I talked about marriage with my cousin who had recently enlisted. I chatted with my cousin’s wife about the tension of raising a child while wanting to still work. We all were held captive by my cousin’s baby, doing nothing and everything while all of it was beautiful and fun. And we all deflated with my uncle’s language of criticism. He cut down everyone in proximity except his kids.
“Why do you think your dad is like that?” I asked my cousin. She was driving me home after an honestly pleasant evening.
“He’s always been like that. He tears everyone down but his kids. He thinks his kids are the best thing. He always tried to pass me off as an Olympic swimmer when they could swim laps around me.”
My uncle had messed up a long time ago. It affected my cousins’ lives forever and my uncle ended up living a pretty lonely life in Sacramento. But I started to connect dots I had never seen while in that car with my cousin.
Personally, I think the reason he tears everyone down but only builds up his children is because that’s all he has left. He doesn’t have anything to really offer and he’s nearing the end of this life. I think he’s full of a lot of regret, and the only thing he doesn’t regret are his kids. It’s his one hope of offering anything to the world.
For the first time in my life, I got why my cousins could sometimes be hard and why my uncle was intolerable–there was a lot of unresolved pain all because of one man’s decision to be selfish. We’re decades away from that event, and we all still feel the ripples of that choice.
Our choices affect more than ourselves. Me strutting around a bath house affects more than myself. I like to pretend it doesn’t, but it does. It’s probably one of the reasons that intimacy with another person scares me. When dating my ex, all I could think about was how my life would hurt him. And that’s horrible.
I want to be better. I want to be healthier. But left alone in a flat for a week pulled so many wounds and pains and straight up selfishness to the surface. I don’t want to be that, but I don’t know how to not anymore. It’s like wandering into the woods and losing sight of the trail. That feeling is terrifying.
I explained this feeling awhile back to one of my best friends.
“I feel lost, Micah. Like I thought I was on a trail, but now I’m up against a cliff and I have no idea how I got here. I need to get back, but I have no idea how. And on top of that, the sun is setting.”
“You’ve done survival training, Brandon. What would you do in that scenario?”
I conjured up the only thing I remembered from that horrible night of freezing my ass off in the Colorado mountains. “Keep walking down hill. It’ll eventually lead to water. Water eventually leads you to civilization?” I said the last part with complete lack of uncertainty, as if it were a question.
He looked at his wife who obviously was more equipped to survive in the wilderness than I was.
“You need to build shelter because you’re going to have to survive the night.” She said with eyes full of compassion.
I want to hunker down. But that terrifies me. Every time I hunker down, I don’t do well. Shadows grow larger in the night, and the smallest noise makes the imagination run wild with horrors. I just want the sun to come up, and it feels like no matter what I do, I can’t find the way home.
But the good news is that I’m not physically trapped in the woods. It’s just imagery. My four days of isolation in the Bay had come to an end, and Janell had come to get me. We were gonna drive up the coast to Portland.