Walking Along the Bottom

Once upon a time in college, I had spent some time in the psychiatric counseling office – mainly as a way to get my horrible grades excused and keep myself from getting kicked out of school. I can’t speak about how things are done in other counseling offices, but at my college they pre-screened me with an “intake” person. One of the questions she asked me was if I had suicidal thoughts. I did, but I wouldn’t have described them as being what I thought was typical, which was a person holding a gun to his or her head, but can’t pull the trigger, or a person hunched over the sink with a shaky hand holding a blade to a wrist scratched with dozens of hesitation marks. That definitely wasn’t me. If I want to do something, then it gets done. None of this waffling nonsense. Yet, I knew that I still thought about suicide. Then the intake lady asked me if my thoughts were active or passive. Did I take steps to kill myself or did I simply think that if I died tomorrow that I’d OK with it? Definitely the second one. And I don’t think that I ever really left that state of mind.

Hitting bottom is scary, but before you get there you fall. On the way down you flail and try to grab at anything you can to stop your descent: friends, family, substances. For me – and I suspect a lot of other people – nothing worked. All I could do was fall. It was a time of self-discovery. I discovered that my support network was not as supportive as I thought it would have been. I discovered that the only two things in my life that I could ever really count on were my mother and myself. Finally, I discovered that I didn’t want to die as much as I thought I did.

At any given moment, life can be boiled down to a binary decision: live or die. At my lowest point everything pointed to die. I was flunking out of college. I had no direction. No drive. No girlfriend. No friends. Had I been an atheist I think I could have done it. I’d have slashed my wrists open and then days later my brother – who was my roommate at the time – would have to break my bedroom door down and find out what the rotting smell was. One night my passive suicidal thoughts became very active. I didn’t have a knife to my wrists or anything, but the action was just a formality. Preparing my mind to commit the act was the difficult part. I sat there imagining the whole process: the cutting, the bleeding, the eventual sleepiness, the inevitable panic, the physical weakness to do anything about it. The more I mulled it over, however, the more afraid I was of what might be on the other side. I couldn’t stop worrying about it. I was paralyzed with fear. After hemming and hawing for some time I decided that I couldn’t go through with it. I had no choice but to live.

That doesn’t mean my life instantaneously improved, mind you. It just means that I learned to live with my circumstances. A lot of my more distinct personality traits solidified during this period. I became distrustful of people. I found them to be nebulous, chaotic and unaccountable. To this day and more than ever, I find that just because someone gives their word it doesn’t mean they’ll stand by it. As such, I became a loner. I’d always been one to some degree, but now I find other people’s company an alien idea. Before, I used to deal with the micro rejections of calling everyone on my list of friends to see who was free to hang out only to find out no one was. I gave that up and embraced my loneliness. The point of all this is to say that I stopped looking at things through an emotional prism and instead through a logical prism. That’s not to say that I’m emotionless – I think that’s impossible. I just minimize my emotional investment. My goals in life are less driven by a passionate enjoyment of chasing them and more driven by a desire to complete them in ways better than others have in the past. I also find that I do things just to fill time until I die naturally. I might live for a very long time, so why not amuse myself?

Basically, I conditioned myself to live with the bare minimum, like an Olympic runner training at high altitudes where the air is thin. I minimized my fear by trying to be as self-sufficient as possible. To this day, I operate on a fictional premise that everyone I know is dead and gone and that there is no one out there who will help me out of emotional ties. If someone is going to help me in some manner, then it’s going to be because I demonstrate some kind of value to them. That might seem soulless, but I think it’s also logical and fair to all parties involved. I had no fear of loss or rejection, because I lived in a mindset where I was completely alone and nothing was personal. Unfortunately, I recently allowed myself to become attached to something and someone. I made it personal.

In my youth, I was all about the big gesture when it came to romance. I was the guy who showed up to class with a rose between his teeth to give you for no reason, or who left a gift on your desk in every class on your birthday, or who gave you a handwritten poem scrolled up in a bottle on Valentine’s Day. My naïve overtures of courtship were all for naught, sadly, because I didn’t realize that big gestures only supplement desire – not create it. Since I didn’t know how to create desire – and by and large still don’t – I was destined to be single. After 10 years, like a diet after 6 months, I felt like I could do this forever. No one would ever stoke my emotions again.

A year and so many months ago I had the opportunity to watch for the first time one of my favorite recording artists perform live. I went to the free concert just to enjoy her music, because I was a fan. I left the concert after it ended feeling long-forgotten emotions of infatuation and desire. An intense debate raged in my head. On one hand, the logical side of me put up all the usual roadblocks, like the fact that I didn’t know her at all and that she was a celebrity, which made her virtually unattainable to a nobody like me. On the other hand, none of that mattered. I had to meet her at least.

I decided I would use my status as an entertainment journalist to land an interview. Since I don’t have any contacts in the music industry, this proved a lot harder than I thought and apparently no one responds to general email inboxes at record labels. Then by chance I reconnected with a celebrity stylist I interviewed a year earlier who took it upon herself to help me get connected with the songstress. The stylist got me the singer’s manager’s contact information. I immediately contacted the manager regarding an interview and he put me in contact with the singer’s LA representation. I contacted the LA management and they shut me down. The singer wasn’t doing interviews. Alas. The next day I saw an interview with the singer in the LA Times.

I was disheartened, to be sure. Obviously, there was a minimum threshold for publication size before the singer’s management would let her talk to me; however, they couldn’t stop my imagination. I kept myself up at night by imagining how the interview might transpire if it ever came to pass – the things I might ask and the ways she might respond. It was so vivid for me that the imaginary interview played itself out for me like a scene from a movie. I decided then that it should become a screenplay.

I poured everything I had into that screenplay. It’s more than just a story. It’s my life. To a degree it’s her life too, which I really don’t have any right to write about, but I digress. The point is that it was personal – as personal as writing can get. It took me over a year to finish it and when it was finally ready to send out to her management, it was rejected by her manager without being read. I was floored, but when you live on the floor it doesn’t take much to get back up. There had to be another way to let the singer know about the screenplay at least. I knew that the singer’s sister was an actress and I looked her up on Twitter. Lo and behold she had an account and I approached her. I explained the situation and she agreed to read the script.

A couple of weeks went by and I didn’t hear back from the sister, but I played it cool because she was my last and best hope of getting to the singer. I knew, however, that I had to nurture my relationship with the sister, because what we had was a small flame that could easily blow out if left unattended. So I decided to invite the sister out to a screening and coffee. She agreed and we had a good time.

We shared a couple more outings over the following months and while she hadn’t finished the script yet, she confessed that she thought I was a wonderful writer. I just knew that once she finished the script that I’d have her endorsement and the script could be properly pitched to the singer. Despite my emotional turmoil, I still logically understood that the singer saying “yes” to the script and being in the movie was the longest of long shots, and I was prepared for a “no”, going so far as to line up other singers I could tailor the story to fit. But I wasn’t ready to give up on the original singer, either.

My plan was to have the sister send the singer a DVD of me, pitching the script via video. So even if the singer didn’t want to do it, at least she’d know who I was, what I looked like, sounded like and what I thought. I would be a real person to her. If the singer said “no”, then I would be solely responsible for my failure.

Which brings me to tonight. It was about that time keep the flame alive with the sister (whose company I’ve come to enjoy irrespective of my endeavor to approach the singer), so I emailed her about joining me at another screening. In her reply, she regretted that she couldn’t make it, but then ended with this:

And did I mention, I told [the singer] about the movie when she was here a couple of weeks ago. She’s really not into acting. I’m sorry. I knew that. But I ran it past her anyway for you.

There are so many things wrong with finding out this way. She’s known the answer for weeks? How was I not immediately informed? Was it out of the question to invite me over to pitch the singer myself? If not in person, then how about over the phone? How persuasive was the sister when she brought it up? I don’t have any answers to these questions.

For the first time in a long time I knew exactly what I wanted and it is supremely disappointing to not even have the opportunity to be rejected directly. The reality is that she will probably never know who I am – in a real sense – and vice versa. Speaking of reality, all of this heartache could have been avoided if I was just a little more vigilant about living in it rather than in the hopeful version of my imagination. No one ever wants to wake up from a sweet dream, especially when the reality that greets you is so bleak.

Editor’s Note: Please forgive any typos. It’s late and I’m too sleepily to actually edit.