On August 31st, 2010, the heavy metal band Disturbed launched their fifth studio album, Asylum, and my world fell apart.
For some time already, the world of this gaming clan leader had been a diagram of the disastrous. The months leading up to such a plateau weren’t much kinder. A disloyal partner, brought on by the need to atone for a deed she felt was a sleight against the almighty. The seeds of doubt and mutiny, growing with tempered aggression in a clan that had long since become content with bureaucratic disinterest. The loss of a job necessary to his own existence, yet so emotionally draining that it pushed him to the brink of suicide, and the fateful night that brought about the cataclysmic chain of events…
I hated 2010. It was a horrible fucking year, and nothing of value happened during it. It was one tragedy after another, and regardless of how I try to look back on it with a positive light, I just keep cringing. Seemingly nothing went right, and the more I tried to fix things, the more people I could count turning away from me. My friends no longer looked to my solutions. Not like I blame them; I was a kid then and more often than not I still feel like it. I was growing up in the wrong aspects, and trying desperately to justify every mistake I made as someone else’s. Morality wasn’t a sliding scale back then, and ethics weren’t a code of conduct I stuck to as guidelines to live my life by. Black and white weren’t colors. They existed as polar opposites on a short spectrum of ideas. In retrospect, being less absolutist during this time would’ve saved many of my friendships, while simultaneously damaging any credibility I had as a decent leader. They didn’t want to step up to the plate, but they didn’t want to watch me do things over their heads anymore. My greatest complaints ranged from being a “tyrant”, all the way up to being titled a “two-faced, hypocritical asshole.” Needless to say, the thin red line was a pretty broad brushstroke on the canvas of my deconstruction. Nothing was accomplished inside our ranks, either. Whether we were stuck in a squabbling match, or lost in the irrelevance of a politically correct dystopia of our own design—it was a nightmare. My admins barely respected me. They looked to me for advice that never came without resistance, and I permitted it. I gave in because I was afraid to make anyone angry. I didn’t want to say no to them. They transformed from peers to paper dolls; fragile, finite sources of entertainment and evidence that I had “done” something. I know now that this was a mistake, as it threw perspective out the window, and replaced it with a magnifying glass. It was a vain attempt to see how they functioned without me. They weren’t ants, and the looking glass I trapped them beneath burned them. I regret it.
It had become evident since the night of the car crash that something wasn’t right. She was incoherent on the way to the hospital, laying on a flimsy gurney, her face drenched in tears. Loose, unending strands of frizzy hair stuck to the sides of her cheeks. The white powder from the airbag had deployed in a distressing manner over her upper chest and neck. Dark bruises from the seat belt began to appear on her collar-bone. It was a miracle that I had not been injured, but a terrifying reality that she had. Riding in the ambulance with the siren on and the light blazing was unsettling enough. Listening to the sobs of my beloved in the back were intolerable though. Still, I was concerned over the snippets of words that were coming through loud and clear. Phrases along the lines of, “I should’ve never left him,” or insulting stabs of “I made a mistake,” all of which being uttered while I was only inches away. I clasped my hand over the center console, biting my tongue to cease my attitude. The driver knew instantly that she wasn’t whimpering about me, but the fuming man she left behind in the apartment mere minutes beforehand. It’s why I chose to drive. She was inconsolable, and feeling like she had betrayed him was now reason enough to cast me aside in her moment of weakness. I blamed her in that moment, and I cursed my own frailty for returning to her open embrace. As we settled into a thin chamber of the emergency room ward, her mother leaned into the hug her daughter. She thanked me casually, and I sat down in a chair in the opposite corner from the bed. Her voice quivering and shaky, she confided in her mother her true feelings.
“Mom, God is punishing me. He’s punishing me for leaving Jay.”
It became abundantly clear that I was not Jay, and that her mother’s gentle head-nods were a way to shut her up so I wouldn’t hear her. It was too late, and the damage had been done. I mourned my loss. Not because I had ended someone’s life; she had long since died inside to become someone else. This was the grief you can only experience at the hands of someone who never truly loved you in the first place. My throat stung with the grip of someone strangling the pathetic nature out of me. No longer did I loathe her for choosing someone else over me. I genuinely hated her for trying to find a place for me in her life, when she knew the only care she had was a pipe-dream. The visions of my happy future with my perfect girl, and my perfect house, and my perfect life all disintegrated in a matter of hours. July fourth was no longer a holiday I could connect to freedom. It was about enslavement. The enslavement of all the time I spent trying to fix things, and sacrifice for a better future. All at once, I knew that for the remainder of our pitiful journey together I would think simply of shackles for her, because she would never see me for anything more than the vessel to ferry her towards household misery.
I wished for a better tomorrow, and my wishes were buried with ashes.
I cried out for self-immolation, and everyone hid the matches.
I called out for the warmth of a friend,
and was warned “it will never end.”
As I finished my shift at Cinemark, I quickly grabbed my spare work shirt from my locker and, at the speed of a hushed sprint, bolted for the computer to clock out. It was Friday, and the sooner I could get out the door, the less chance there would be I’d hear the voice of my manager conveniently waiting to catch me leaving so he could guilt-trip me into taking the night-shift as well.
I hit the furthest exit doors I could find, closest to the trash compactor and quite the opposite direction my fearless leader would be. A rush of frigid air hit me in the face, causing a moment of surprise and delight.
I love the cold. It excites every fiber of my being, and pushes me to do new things. As I strode quickly off the sidewalk and onto the pavement, I spotted my Mustang in the distance. The car was a cherry red color, so it wasn’t difficult to spot through a sea of vehicles. I began an awkward dance of weaving through the grid of cars. As I approached the driver’s side door, a glimmer caught the corner of my eye. I turned my head, expecting to see a ridiculously chrome-peppered vehicle, or a reflection off a nearby pedestrian’s attire. What I was met with, was the brightly-lit form of a man, illuminated by a street-light at the edge of the parking lot. His head was bowed, staring at the shiny object in his hand. The tiny spark that averted my eyes was no more than a ring, but to him it was worse than a wound. I clicked the button on the Mustang’s door handle, using an unreasonable sense of caution to avoid catching his eye. Quietly, I took a seat in the driver’s chair and instantly adjusted the outside mirror for a better view.
Whether I was swift, or he was lost in the catacombs of recollection, he remained in place. I sat mystified, attempting to understand the thought pattern of the man. He was clearly at the edge of this parking lot for a reason, and whatever it was, a movie was not on the agenda. He relaxed for a moment, his hand closing around the trinket. As he leaned back against his truck, he turned his head upwards. He withdrew once again to his mind, an apparent frustration now rising with each heave of his chest. He turned around to the door, opened it quickly, climbed in, and sat down.
Lost for a moment in the shadow of the cabin, I resigned myself to the idea that the scene was over. I was soon proven incorrect, as the outline of his face appeared in the illumination of his phone’s screen. He was unmistakably chatting on his speaker phone, and from the exaggerated movements observed, it was clear that he was distraught. His hands turned to talons; he flailed wildly in multiple directions, all while his head shook and jerked back in disgust. He put his head in his palms, rocking back and forth in furious exasperation. His hands moved to the screen, jabbing the smartphone’s face in frantic desperation. A careless toss of the device told me that his patience was gone, along with the caller, and whatever he was doing there in the first place was about to become evident.
I recognized instantly his expression upon exiting the truck. It was the mask of lovelorn rage; the composite mix of betrayal and defeat, coupled with the sting of loss. I had experienced such an event before, and it had left me in the same agonizing state. The feeling of content belonging had been stripped, and replaced with a miasma of confusion and despair which now clawed at him like a rabid animal. His future was suddenly capsized, and in its place was the absence of trust. Never again would this moment come to pass. From this point on, planning would be the only love he embraced.
Safety. Certainty. Probability.
This would be his anchor, and assurance. He would never let such a crippling story come to fruition again, and for the rest of his days, a wall would begin building in place of the faith he once willingly granted. Too much had been lost; the time for wasting had been spent, and his next encounter would be a hunt, not a collision. Within that one moment, many absolutes had been determined, and all of them pointed to a single exit: the driver’s side door.
He leapt from the vehicle, fists balled. Now was not the time for words. No poetry could undo the damage. No melody of love lost could repair the rift. This time was meant for action, and the action was severance. Emotionally drained, his hate took hold. He dared not chance a second look at his oppressor, his clenched fist was the only shield he had from his mistakes. With a sigh of grim apprehension, he turned to the black. Bitterness drew back his arm. Resentment cradled him in its numbing embrace, adding power and reason to his actions. Grief steadied his hand; this was not a task for the weak. Shame enveloped him, and all at once the small, circular shackle was cast out, vanishing immediately into the night.
And here I sit, hand on the telephone
Hearing the voice I’d known
A couple of light years ago
Headed straight for a fall
Happy 2014, children.
While I constantly receive the urge to write, I admit that over the past year I have grown so critical of my own work that I refuse to hit “publish” until I am absolutely sure it’s perfect. Then, once I am satisfied and have pressed the button I enter a panicked frenzy where I’m caught second-guessing every other line, and quotation as sounding too cliché or simply idiotic. It’s a new year though, so I should probably resolve to stop doing that.
…Or are resolutions too cliché?
The good news is that I haven’t run short on things to observe in my mundane existence, and I still feel obligated to throw war-paint all over them in order to get my point across. I should hit pretty close to home for some of you today, and I’d like to think there are many people who are not only familiar with this epidemic, but loathe it to the extent that I do.
Life as we know it is a never-ending grind through monotonous tasks, plastered smiles, and fleeting climaxes all gift-wrapped as the “experience of a lifetime“. We’re all stuck together in a system that dances circles like the hands on a clock, and much like the clock you can go insane from taking too hard of a look at it. That moment turns into an excruciatingly cruel reminder of why it is that people take vacations, and why therapists exist. However, for that unlucky crowd of isolated units who don’t have their own handful of happiness, or a vice to drown out that emptiness- life is just their own personal tale as Sisyphus.
It’s one thing to be able to look at the world around you from an emotional gutter. The world seems like a utopia that you’re barred from, where you’re forced to face a sea of pairs, being carried effortlessly upwards towards some golden skyline. It’s an entirely different issue altogether to turn towards your small corner of the world, and view one of your own throwing happiness at you like a trophy.
The first world we inhabit is not a cooperative community, where we strive to flourish as a whole and better ourselves. It’s not even a large raft where we’re all fighting for survival in a chaotic sea while trying to keep each other afloat. Our world has become a vast ocean where millions of tiny islands dot the surface mere inches from one another. It’s a lonely grid where everyone is close enough to reach out and touch each other, but tragically lack the companionship and altruism required to bring others closer to them.
As an adult, you’re forced to confront the fact no one is there to help you. You’re on your own, and people feel the need to consistently remind you of this. Upon leaving high-school, an image is drilled into your head of what you have to earn. It’s a terrible, uninspiring image that few should ever consider. The “American Dream“, a picture so grim that Philip K. Dick made it a tragedy in all of its banal glory in A Scanner Darkly. In retrospect, my entire childhood was based around a loosely translated panorama of the 1950’s where the perfect family unit sits together watching their first color TV and dreaming of a world where technology makes all their fantasies come to life.
The reality could be no further from the truth. My ever-shrinking list of family and friends have turned into a social-media propaganda squad, whose only apparent mission is to rise higher than the rest of their peers. This sad portrait is repeated daily like a chore, where they exchange hollow pleasantries momentarily before unfurling a new list of pseudo-achievements to gloat over. When they exhaust their reserve of words for their success, they quickly switch to a bulky slideshow of recently recorded personal victories, as they cluster together with acquaintances and strangers to paste a smile on and show off the exotic places and strange attractions they’ve visited. It’s a cruel injustice to this amazing planet that we live on, that we’ve become so obsessed with capturing the perfect moments on camera that we’ve completely neglected to take part in, or savior them.
I no longer crave the loud, and crowded parties where seemingly popular people gather to have the time of their lives. I care not for the three-piece suit and the slick appearance of being a hotshot in a trade with no character and no mind of my own. I can’t picture the group of friends locked shoulder-to-shoulder in brotherly and sisterly affection. I don’t buy the millions of photos depicting happy couples locked in a tender kiss. I don’t believe that anyone who engages in this ritualistic, digital sadomasochism ever receives the pleasure they seek from it.
Our world will share a common regret when everyone stops competing for who can look the prettiest for the longest amount of time. I sincerely hope that someday soon people begin trying to write their story in ink, and stop standing still in the hopes that someone will paint it for the ages to gawk at and admire. You should not be impressed by those around you who actively seek to set a “life-example” for you to follow. As young as I am, I’ve come to realize that life is much less of a hassle when you don’t take it too seriously.
It’s also a lot less cruel when you stop wishing to appear happy, and actually start being happy.
Because it’s a great big white world
And we are drained of our colors
We used to love ourselves,
We used to love one another
There are many tales of tragedy and woe, but none I know quite as well as the tale of my gaming community.
The tragedy of my clan is not of the sort where death and painful misfortune strike incessantly, eventually bringing the protagonist(s) down to a point of inconsolable misery. It’s not of the hero who marches onward towards their demise, knowing that glory and certain defeat await them. This story revolves around a self-inflicted wound, and the irreparable damage caused by the inaction of many.
Though it has decayed into the city of Terminus, The Sic originally was a flourishing haven for the weary soul; those who had been out in the purgatory of the average gaming group, and had experienced for themselves the lackluster attitude of those whose entire frame of reference was built around statistics, and dull number values. They came to us with the hope of belonging. We gave to them a purpose, and a potential to thrive so long as they were willing to commit to the cause. This presented people with a unique opportunity to actively become social with others from our legion, and work together to accomplish goals thought unobtainable by most others. For a time, we not only proved this true; we set the bar for other groups to follow in suit.
Despite the greatest efforts to keep a sense of stability within our walls, the group has collapsed on itself. The reason? One could make the argument that we no longer had anything left to offer people, and people have attempted pushing that story. That however, is only a half-truth. Another tale woven is that we’ve switched theater of operation too often. Notable, but also false considering it was the only aspect that allowed us to retain a large base of operations for each game we entered into. The actual reason is hilariously simple, and in retrospect I lose my mind thinking about the one word its anthology of examples demonstrates:
An infuriating pattern has emerged over the past couple of years, that has slowly killed off the remainder of my team. While I believed they all fully understood the necessary actions that are required to maintain the status quo of the clan, I no longer believe this to factor into their decision-making abilities. There are only a few facets that require attention from high-ranking officers within the group. The first, is a reasonable rate of activity. This is simply a reassurance for the sake of your members. The second action, is organization. Whether we’re talking members and ranks, game branches and items, or website users and backgrounds, people take a person seriously who can at least be counted on to have a checklist completed by the end of the day. The last action, is of course, recruiting. Without getting people in the door, your gaming clan is doomed to fail.
Therein lies the issue. If you have a gaming clan who isn’t willing to recruit, organize the assets or follow the protocol of the clan, let alone show up at all, then you’re better off throwing in the towel. That’s not a team-effort; it’s a sign that they’re digging your grave.
Allow me to explain what it takes to keep an organization that you care about running. Whether that is keeping your business afloat, trying to promote a cause that you believe is worthy of public attention, or even something as trivial as a gaming clan- this rule still applies. You can’t half-ass your endeavors of any size, and you can’t just sit idly by and hope someone else will do your job for you. If you want a task completed (especially a large one, mind you), it takes more than just what you can offer “when you have time”.
It takes SACRIFICE.
During my eight years managing The Sic, I’ve learned the hard way a dozen times that you have to give up quite a few things that you normally wouldn’t if you want to succeed, and in the process I may have given up a couple of things I probably shouldn’t have. For the sake of continuity, I’ve skipped countless amounts of social engagements that friends had invited me to, as well as a handful of events that these people considered important. I’ve let go of multiple opportunities to network for my career in a new environment, with new people under new circumstances. I’ve willingly buried a fairly successful relationship, and almost another that was my final straw before I finally took my leave. All this I did for the “greater good”, but in reality it was out of a vain sense of responsibility, resting on a mantle that I alone did not have to carry. Only now do I come to accept the sad truth that perhaps I had a misplaced sense of trust, because I presumed others cared as much about our survival as I did.
I know now that people don’t want to sacrifice. They claim they have no time, and conjure outlandish narratives to make it seem as if there is nothing more they could do to show their faces than what they already are. They present apologies, and deflect when presented with inquiry, all while shielding a surreptitious agenda. Most insulting of all is this facade that I’ve never seen end; this cruel world in which no one can just inform me that they’re finished, and that it’s best to simply mark their journey as completed. I have learned my lesson, and thus have played Captain for the last time. If people understand that you’re willing to take the helm even when they’re not there, they feel no remorse about abandoning their posts. It’s the insecurity of not being able to step up and take the wheel when another crew member falls. It’s the shame of calling others your friends, just to leave them to their devices when the obstacles become too great to climb, and it’s the cowardice of not being able to face them, as you run away from your shared problems and pretend you’re too busy to notice the flaming hulk of the ship you’re escaping.
I never left the helm of my ship. I might’ve stepped aside, and even sat back to observe others as they tried their hand at steering, but when the lifeboats were all gone and the crew was sailing furiously into the darkness of the night, I somehow still managed to find myself clutching onto a burning bridge. Much as you start with nothing in the field of leadership, so do you end with nothing.
The dust has settled in
The broken structure
Is now one with
This shattered beauty
In timeless indifference
Become one, become none
As I place my hands on the smooth oak surface of the desk, I lean forward within close proximity of the microphone. The unpleasant humming of the dead-air through my headphones reminds me that people are listening to nothing. This is my opportunity, and I’ve yet to speak. The question, so piercing and rhetorical in structure that up until my awkward moment of clarity, I had all but dismissed it. My comfort level quickly fading, I turned towards my familiar soundboard to start a new musical track, but no images were detected. The brightly-lit LED monitor was now dead; what remained was an inconvenient herald that I should no longer evade inquiry.
My chair swiveled in place, and I heard the echoing voice repeat its question. The accusatory tone of the faceless female brought red to my face as she delivered her query.
“What is wrong with you?”
I laugh it off nervously, and respond with a defensive form of sarcasm.
“A lot of things are wrong with me. I’m hungry, for one. I feel slightly sexually deprived, and I don’t have enough happy-thoughts in my life. Does that answer your question?”
I’m met only by the cold, isolating static from the opposite end of the call. Believing her to be annoyed, I crack a grin and return to the mic.
“Well, I guess that wasn’t what you were looking for, was it?” I ask smugly while spinning in my chair. I attempt to provoke a response from her.
“For asking such a broad question, you sure don’t sound as if you want it answered! I mean, come on. You want to know what is “wrong” with me? Well, assuming that your standards are as ridiculous as I think they are; I think I know exactly what is wrong with me, by your definition.
1) I use too much profanity.
2) I take a perspective that is a bit too realistic for your taste.
3) I undoubtedly speak on topics that offend you quite often.
Last but not least, I’m more than certain that you’re one of the self-righteous lunatics who thinks if people don’t live by your definition of morality, then they must fall under some lesser category of human. Did I get that right, sweetheart?”
I lean back against the black leather of my chair, and wait for the tears to flow. However, much to my surprise and dismay- I still have no audience. White noise feeds into the tiny pentagonal room, causing me a relative sense of uneasiness. My frustration mounting, I scoot forward in my chair, ever closer to cold silver of the studio microphone. I don’t feel like a wonderful personality anymore, though. The mic turns into a shiny metallic betrayal-receiver that awaits my every word and action. I’m not having a good time, and as much as I wish for her not to know that, I won’t be able to control my tone on the air as well as I should hope. I fold my left leg over the top of my right knee, and take a moment to steady my thoughts. Did she hang up? Is the communication so terrible, that she believes she is talking to me right now, and I just can’t hear her? Is she deliberately holding out for some type of profound answer that isn’t coming? Whatever the reason, it’s up to me to bring this silly charade to a close.
“Look, I don’t really know what sort of social-experiment you’re attempting to complete here, but I do know that I’ve answered your idiotic question to the best of my abilities. If you can’t handle that, then it’s not my problem. Besides, if you don’t like me then you shouldn’t be tuning into my station in the first place. You do realize you have the illusion of freedom at your disposal, don’t you? I highly recommend you try it sometime. The way it works is:
You don’t listen to my broadcast.
I don’t say things that make you call-in.
You don’t ask me stupid things.
We don’t get in this awkward position we’re in right now.
Now, isn’t that much faster than spending hours trying to think of something potentially intriguing to ask me? Now you can leave, and I can get back to what I was doing!”
Satisfied, I leaned onto the left armrest, resting my cheek inside my left palm. I didn’t want to hear her response. I just wanted the person screening my calls (whoever they were), to do their job and get rid of the little mouse. She had grown beyond the point of humorous; my patience was draining quickly and the only thing I could think of to give me some peace was the fact I still had the power to cut her off. It seemed though, that regardless of what I wanted to do, I would be forced to endure another long, dramatic pause. As if the static wasn’t bad enough, now I was having an internal revolution. The lady had brought this on herself. If she wanted an actual answer to her question, she was going to get it.
I quickly vaulted from the seat of the chair, and kicked it to the back wall. As I leaned forward, I could hear the thump as the rolling stopped suddenly against the soundproof wall. I clutched the base of the microphone, shifting it upwards so I wouldn’t have to be stuck in such an uncomfortable position while on my tirade. I gripped it like a vocalist at a heavy metal concert, wanting to vent all my rage out on my aggressor. As innocuous as the original question had been phrased, I now took it as a personal attack on my character. An anonymous ad hominem of astronomical proportions that I would not tolerate from some whiny, spineless female with a phone.
“Well, Ms. moral-compass…I don’t exactly know what is wrong with me. I can give you a handy list though, so that you can draw it up on a fine piece of paper, laminate it, and distribute it to the one friend you do fucking have! Let’s start here. I am stuck living in some twilight reality that I’ve gone and expunged all optimistic views I had about the world around me. I don’t like the people in it, because I view the majority of them as a swarming mass of pseudo-moral loving troglodytes who are pining away for some world of lore that only the mind of Huxley could’ve conjured. I don’t want to anesthetize myself to things around me, because it’s a lot more enjoyable to be depressed that most of the things I don’t like about my setting are obstacles I can’t change from my end. My only useful skill that I’ve used in the past five years has on some level made use of continuous self-loathing, and everything else I can do somehow never seems to quite live up to a standard I view as acceptable. I want to be social and the moment I step out to do it, I remember exactly why isolation was my only choice from the start. I can’t take any pertinent actions that I’m happy with, because if it has to do with something that matters I’m stuck in a suspended form of self-doubt, where I don’t want to take a risk if I know it could fail. Everything seems like a doomsday clock that is growing ever closer to a point where I break, but it never quite seems to get close enough to strike midnight.
…But you know what’s really wrong with me, lady? I don’t like you. I don’t like having to listen to the sound of my own voice, and I don’t like me. I’m done.”
I slid my headphones off, and shoved the microphone so hard the opposite direction the shock-stand vibrated in place. I put my back against the opposite wall, and edged down to have a seat. I put my head between my knees, and watched the studio lights dim as the static faded.
Then I woke up.