I have neglected, so far, to mention that at the same time that much of this was going on, I was in the process of developing an actual, mostly healthy relationship with a young lady with whom I was attending high school. Let’s call her Susan, just to keep things simple, but that was not her actual name, of course.
She was wonderful. In all likelihood, she still is wonderful. In other circumstances, it might have been a relationship that could have lasted. Our original plans were that it should, of course. We met when she moved across the country with her family at age 15 and started to attend my high school. She was one of two girls in the school who could keep up with me intellectually, and while she came from a Southern Baptist background, she was in a similar anti-Christian mood at the time and while I kept most of my involvement with the Lodge away from her, I felt like we were aligned in all of the ways that mattered to me at the time. Of course, my conception of what was important then was very different than it is today.
Living in a largely apathetic household and having a great deal of autonomy, I was free to pursue my relationship with Susan in any time that I was not already involved in some other activity (and there were a lot of those in those days.) We grew close quickly, and it soon became a focus for more and more of my attention.
She felt like she did not fit well in high school, so she graduated a year early and started college while I was still a high school senior. I almost followed her. Im retrospect, I am glad that I didn’t, but it might have removed me from the influence of the Lodge sooner, so it’s hard to know how things might have changed. But I stayed in high school and had an awesome senior year – with a few dark places, some of which I ended up seeking out, and some of which found me.
This next part gives me squicky feels too… Susan’s parents had money. They probably had more assets than I will ever acquire, and growing up on a horse ranch, I never wanted for space and things to keep my mind occupied, but I really had no idea how big the difference between ‘comfortable’ and ‘wealthy’ was until then. I hate to admit this now, and at the time I was wholly incapable of even seeing it, but I used them for their ability to influence people and make things easier through the application of money pressure. I did love Susan. I still love Susan, if I’m being honest, but I also used her and her family, and I do wonder if I would have been as interested in Susan if not for the fringe benefits of a relationship with her… not because any part of my feelings were disingenuous, but because I was not a very well-formed human just yet.
I console myself with the knowledge that every human manipulates others, consciously or unconsciously, to get the things that we need or desire. I was not consciously manipulating Susan, but I can see in retrospect that I did end up manipulating her quite a bit.
I was not quite so self-aware then, and I was a much more selfish person in general.
Susan and I had a plan. She started school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and I planned to attend UC Santa Barbara (which is only about an hour away by car). We were both engineering undergrads, but our plans for grad school were divergent. She planned to pursue a JD (and ended up getting an MBA at the same time for good measure) and go into patent law or become inside corporate counsel for a technology company. I planned to go to medical school and pursue a career in biomechanics or biomedical engineering. While we were not actually modeling our lives after the Huxtables, it was a comparison that was often made.
But that is where things fell apart…
I used Susan and college as ways to help me get away from the Lodge and my family. Susan and I married at a ridiculously young age and at that point I just completely stopped attending any of my own family’s holidays or events and just started exclusively going to hers. I did not realize that I was actively rejecting my own family or that I was isolating myself so effectively.
Gradually, over time, my relationship with Susan started to fail. The most pronounced area in which this was problematic was over religion. Most couples fight over money, but we didn’t have that problem, so we found other things to be in conflict over. Susan went back to her Southern Baptist roots and even went so far as to be born again and baptized yet another time – in the swimming pool in our backyard, no less. She became more and more involved with her church, and that made me more and more uncomfortable. I started to spend more and more time away from home. School kept me busy, and even though I didn’t need the money, I started taking on side jobs to have an income stream of my own, even though her parents gave us everything that we could possibly need.
Our relationship finally broke. I can remember the incident that predicated it with crystal clarity. It was a summer evening, and the summer sun hung low in the sky, the LA area smog making for a gorgeous panoply of red, orange, purple, and pink hues in the sky. I arrived home in the early evening – and found Susan already at home, sitting on the sofa in the formal living room and crying. It looked as if she had been crying for some time, so I did what I do in situations where I find someone that I care about crying – I tried to console her.
My actions made her cry even harder and I was genuinely confused, but I just stayed where I was, arms around her, silently being in the moment with her and eventually her sobbing abated and she looked at me with big, blue eyes, bloodshot and teary, snot uncontrollably rolling out of her face, and she said to me, “I will miss you.”
I didn’t really understand what she was talking about, so in my customarily eloquent fashion, I said, “Huh?”
“I will miss you when you’re gone.”
“Am I going somewhere?”
“I mean when you die.”
“Well, yes, I would imagine so… but I don’t plan to do that any time soon.”
“No, I don’t mean that. I mean I am sad because when I die, I will go to Heaven, but you won’t be there.”
I was flabbergasted. Dumbfounded. And I sat there, dumbfounded, for some time.
Eventually this turned into a conversation about what it means to be ‘equally yoked under God’ and what happens to the souls of the unbelievers when we die.
I had already come to a very painful decision though – as soon as she said “…I am sad because when I die, I will go to Heaven, but you won’t be there” I could feel the decision being made. It was less of a conscious thing and more of a necessity.
It took getting through the rest of that conversation while I muddled around in the innards of my own mind for a bit – with much less facility than I have now – and was finally able to give voice to the decision that I had already made.
“I want a divorce.”
It felt like gutting myself to say those words. It was an agony unlike any that I had previously experienced, and it made me question the whole notion. If separating was going to be so painful, then maybe it shouldn’t happen? Maybe I was missing something? But no. I was just being affected by emotions in a context that I had no previous experience in… and it was truly awful.
I feel pain when every relationship ends, whether I am the one to initiate the break-up or not. I don’t think that is unusual at all, but having been the one to first say the words, I felt like I was in some way beholden to them. It makes so little sense that it is difficult to express in words, but I felt that I somehow owed the concept of divorce my attention.
We both did a great deal more crying that night, but she never fought me on it. She never tried to talk me out of it, never asked me to stay, never tried to win me back, all of which I expected, but was relieved to not have to deal with. We were separated the next day and our divorce was final as quickly as the courts could process it.
We maintained the same residence in name until our house sold, and then we split the proceeds evenly, however, I stopped living there almost immediately. I had no real money of my own and, being a full time student, I had very few ways to earn enough to actually live on. It was already well past the FAFSA deadline, so there was no way I could apply for additional loan money without paying usurious levels of interest, so I ended up couch surfing for a few weeks while I tried to figure out what was going on in my life.
For the first time I took a look at the trajectory of my life and I said, “how did I get here?”
I was on the path that everyone wishes they could be on – I had good grades, a handful of bachelor’s degrees and I was accepted to the Geffen School of Medicine – and had I stayed on that path, I would probably be a very different person today, but it was not a path that I set out on because I wanted to be a doctor or even because I wanted to work on human-computer interfaces (which was the only thing that really kept me interested anyway – I have no real interest in medicine.) I was on that path because it was the path that Susan’s parents wanted me to be on. I was on that path because it was the ‘logical’ thing to do given my intelligence and ability to assimilate information. I was there because it was expected of me. So I resolved to quit that too.
I still bounce back and forth between relief and regret with respect to that decision. Most of the time I’m content with things and I can be comfortable with my choice, but there are definitely times that I look at my bank balance and how expensive things around me are and I regret not making the choice to pursue a more traditionally lucrative career path, and there are definitely times when I look back with great relief on a decision that kept me from becoming a prisoner to a rather narrowly defined career path that I am nearly certain that I would find unfulfilling or challenging in all of the wrong ways. The challenges that I face now are more constructive, and I never have to tell anyone that their loved one is going to die.
Regardless of the motivations or causes behind the next chapter of my life, this was a seminal event. It put me in the vicinity of UCLA on the couches of friends for as long as they could stand me while I tried to salvage the pieces of my life and find a new path forward.
I didn’t drop out of school right away, but I did find a shitty job working as a server at The Cheesecake Factory in Brentwood, and that would prove to be a very important decision for reasons that will become apparent next time.
Until then – and always – I am Rant.