Plenty

How did it all begin? Why are we here? What happens to us after we die?

I remember asking my mom these questions as a child. Her answers never satisfied me.

“God made the world, honey.”

“Why?”

“Because he was lonely.”

“Why?”

“Because he had no one to play with.”

“What about his mummy?”

“God doesn’t have a mommy.”

“Then how was he borned?”

“God created himself.”

“How’d he do that?”

“With a miracle.”

“What’s a mira-go?”

“It’s when something very special happens, like magic.”

Magic my ass (minus the sarcasm) is basically how I felt after these conversations with my mom. Things didn’t add up. Her answers only led to more questions. It was irritating. And, like all kids, I was a little ninja and could perceive she wasn’t satisfied with her answers, either. Right around Kindergarten, I stopped bugging my mom about the “meaning of it all,” but I never stopped wondering.

In college, I grappled with the great mysteries of the universe as an (“independent”) “adult” for the first time. And I began to view my parents’ explanations, and those of the church, as not just flawed but silly even. Ridiculous, some of them. I mean, come on: God created the earth in 7 days? Anyway, I began to question pretty much everything I’d been taught and (sort of) accepted up to that point about existence. And I began to experience the pangs of existential angst that would hinder me in years to come.

After college, when the framework of school and organized sports was no longer there to guide me (a.k.a. when I had to figure out what to do with my life), the big questions with which I used to torture my mom as a toddler returned to center stage in my mind. I felt like I needed to figure out the meaning of it all so that I could move forward in the right direction. I tried my ass off to figure things out. I really did. But it was like banging my head against the wall. As time passed, I got more and more tired and hurt; and I really began to suffer from anxiety.

Before things got too terrible, something happened. Not an epiphany, but a blessing in disguise: my savings ran out. I was in Pasadena, California at the time, where I’d moved to explore the film industry. (But really all I was doing out there was walking the streets, smoking butts, talking to homeless folks, and scribbling notes and ideas for stories and screenplays I’d never get around to writing.) By the time I went broke, I’d been out there plenty long enough to know that I wasn’t exactly poised to take over Tinsel Town, so I decided to wave the white flag, move Back East, and take the first job I could find.

Shortly after my return to the Northeast, I accepted a job as a laborer with a small landscaping company on Cape Cod. And thank God I did. Thank God for all the failure and paralysis by analysis and other shit that led me to that landscaping gig on the Cape. For if it weren’t for that move, I probably never would have met my wife, Annie. And had I not met Annie, we of course wouldn’t have had our baby Ellie. And a world without my girls is unimaginably empty.

Annie and I met at a bar–the Woodshed–in Brewster, Massachusetts. The night we met I was with a buddy from the landscaping crew. A band was playing, and the place was packed. It was hot, loud, and so crowded it was hard to move. Honestly, had I been alone I would’ve turned right around and left. Miraculously, though, moments after we arrived, I spotted what were probably the only two open seats in the place at a nearby table. My buddy and I moved in. And I’ll never forget it: I sat down then looked up, and there, across from me, was a beautiful, tan, dark-haired, brown-eyed girl.

Holy shit.

Somehow, I was able to work through the shock of love at first sight in order ask her if it was okay to join them. And when I heard Annie’s voice for the first time (“Sure.”) and saw that smile, I practically busted a nut. Yes, she is very pretty, and projects an aura of sweetness, but that’s not why I was so blown away. This was different; there was something else going on here. I know it sounds nuts, but the best I can explain it is our souls connected and were like flirting or something. After five minutes of chit chat we had somehow gotten to talking about our dreams. Our futures. We wanted the same things–right down to living in Vermont and owning chickens!

Before I met Annie, I was not a romantic. And, now that I think about it, I should probably bring her flowers and stuff more than I do. But I really do try pretty hard to express my love. (I can’t help it actually. Whenever I look at her I just want to hug and kiss and…) Every once in awhile, like for an anniversary or something, I try to demonstrate my love in writing. But when I try to put it into words, I never do it justice. I mean, I scribble about how I love her compassion and kindness, and how she looks, smells, and feels, etc., but these qualities are not really why I love her. These qualities are just qualities. Qualities are things. Beautiful things, yes, but just things. And lots of people have them. And while I love all people, in a way–I don’t love them how I love my wife.

No–I can’t accurately explain our love any better than I can put my finger on the secrets of the cosmos. And even if I were capable of this task, language isn’t. What I can do, though, is continue trying my best to come up with ways to show my love. And while demonstrating the depths of my love for Annie is about as futile an endeavor as capturing it in words, it’s totally worth the effort. Because even when it doesn’t land me any poontang, it will at least get me a kiss, a touch, a smile–or even just a glance from across the room, any of which are more than enough to keep me playing Sisyphus.

The other day, Annie and I were outside in our Adirondack chairs with our baby girl, Ellie, who was climbing all over us. It was pure joy watching our little one laughing–without a care or concern in the world. She was giving us kisses, and we were tickling her and making her laugh until she screamed. The sun was shining on us and there was a nice breeze, carrying the scent of lilac.

Sitting there, I thought to myself: Even if I get hit by a truck tomorrow, a universe in which this moment is possible is a really great universe.

I thought about how it won’t be long before our daughter starts asking us about life and death and the meaning of existence.

I put my hand on Annie’s, and she looked at me and smiled.

Eddy Got Your Back

Back when I was living in New York City and studying for my MFA, I nearly lost my grip on reality. It was nuts; I was basically insane with anxiety. I was living on the verge of a panic attack and suffering from what they call agoraphobia–a fear of leaving my apartment. I know it sounds crazy, but I had this irrational dread of just “upping and dying”–of a brain aneurysm or heart attack–while out in public. Sure I was afraid of the actual dying process and all, but what really bugged me was the thought of croaking in front of a bunch of gawkers and causing a big, embarrassing scene.

One evening, early in my glorious, two-year stint in the Apple, I got a preview of this humiliation after fainting in public from a panic attack. It was a perfect finale to a terrible day. It happened right in front of my apartment building while I was out smoking my nightly cig with my boy Ed the doorman. Ed was a good conversationalist–kind of opinionated, but not too bad. He really did want to be your friend. He was honest and well read and not the least bit afraid to throw out the deep shit. Ed was straight off the boat from Russia and lived like 2 hours away in rural New York state where he fished every day. He had a brother who was a great photographer but also a wicked heroin addict. Which was painful for him to talk about.

Anyway, Ed and I were just ripping a few butts, kind of shooting the breeze, as usual. Ed was doing pretty much all the talking as I really wasn’t feeling well. He had gotten on the topic of Eastern European women, and was explaining why they are the sexiest women in the world. It was too bad that I was in such a shamble, because I probably would’ve had some fun with Eddy on this subject–playing devil’s advocate and such. Anyway, I’m sure he was making a compelling argument as usual, but I was pretty preoccupied. Earlier that day I’d given a forceful presentation on Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That which had consisted of two words–“I’m blanking”–before briefly apologizing and sitting right back down. And I couldn’t stop reliving the scene–the embarrassment my peers felt for me, and my professor’s response: “How about a little more intellectual rigor next time?” (“Gee, thanks professor. I appreciate you pointing that out, because I totally thought I just hit a homerun. How about you chug my cock and like it next time? Go write another dry, boring-ass piece for the New Yorker, you absent-minded fuck.”)

Anyway, that whole incident was fueling the toxic thoughts that seemed to suffocate my mind all the time in those days. Like how I would never amount to anything as a writer because writing was too hard for me. Like how I was destined for failure. Like there was no guarantee that I would end up successful or even just all right. That there was no God or force out there to keep me company, let alone safe. And that, despite what the doctors were telling me (that I was okay), I was sick and dying. How could I not be? I couldn’t stop shaking and twitching, and all that weird cramping and the fatigue–it couldn’t possibly be purely mental… It was all too perfect: Andrew White–a golden boy athlete from a respectable family–struck down by Parkinson’s or ALS or some other horrifying malady in his prime. Once his health left him, his looks went, and before long he became an obscure, wheelchair-bound object of pity. His life really ended when he split with Annie.

I fully expected that by the time Annie returned to the Northeast from her yearlong, service commitment abroad, I would have received whatever terrible diagnosis I had coming. I could picture her eyes welling up with tears as I told her the news (terminal cancer, maybe, or at least MS). She wouldn’t cry too badly at first, but as soon as she was alone, away from me, the floodgates would open and she would become hysterical. And because, for my sake, she wouldn’t want me to see her that way, I wouldn’t be there to hold her. I would try my best to break up with her right then and there, to free her from this sinking ship. I would tell her to go on without me, to have children. And I would never see her again, though I would never stop dreaming about her, either.

Anyway. As my brain marinated in this all-too familiar cloud of uplifting thoughts, I began to feel sick to my stomach. Ed’s voice began to irritate me. Why was he talking so loudly? Ed, I don’t give a shit that the Eastern European woman’s foot tends to run a full size below the average American’s. Boom–my nausea escalated from 7 to 60 in about 2.2 milliseconds. I seriously chucked my cigarette and started to book it toward the street so as to not puke right in front of Ed and my apartment building where it would make a nasty scene. My last thought was, “I’m not going to make it.”

Seconds later, I woke up, feeling incredibly rested, as if I’d been out a full night’s sleep. As I came to, though, I heard Ed wiggin’ out: “Andrew, Andrew, are you okay? Are you epileptic?” My head began to throb, and my eye socket hurt like a bitch. Blood was really pouring out pretty good from a gash above my eye. Holy shit, I just fainted! About a dozen other tenants were now huddled around me, too. Squawking like chickens, half of them. One of them said she was calling 911. But I really didn’t want that, and I begged her not to call an ambulance. I was mortified enough and couldn’t deal with being the center of any more spectacle–even if it meant dying.

Ed understood what I was thinking, I think. He had my back. The cool bastard that he was, he listened to me. I’m pretty sure of it, anyway. And I’ll never forget it. Had I died or something that night, he probably could’ve been sued or at least fired. But he listened to me and told the other folks that I was going to be fine and to put their cell phones away. Then he basically carried me to the elevator and helped me to my apartment.

I’d write more about that night–like what happened next and everything. But to be honest, it really didn’t end up being all that interesting from that point on. Basically I just rested a bit, drank some water, then took a cab to the hospital and got an IV.

“Dehydration,” they said.