How the internet made me a real boy

18 Dec

“I’ve always wondered about the assumption that our online personas are more fake than our physical ones. I often feel awkward and nervous in real-life situations; I almost always feel like I’m saying the wrong thing and am unable to articulate what I really think and feel. Online, I have plenty of time and unlimited space to consider what to say and how to express myself. It’s an advantage that makes me feel more like myself, not less so.”
– Summer Anne Burton, “Social Networking: A Love Story”

I don’t know where I would be without Twitter. I think about this often — sometimes I’m embarrassed by how often — but there’s no denying the tremendous impact it has had on my life, both professional and personal. Twitter is not the most important thing in my life, despite what some of my haters would have you believe, but it is the means through which I found some of the most important things in my life: my closest friends, my job, and an audience I never thought I would have, gracious enough to read everything from 140-character musings to 7,000-word articles I’ve spent months reporting.

Reading my colleague Summer’s lovely retrospective on her 20 years on the internet, I was delighted by how much I connected with it. Delighted but not surprised: One of the most important lessons the internet taught me is that there is always someone out there feeling the same things I’m feeling. There always has been, and there always will be. In my experience, the internet has never been about alienation or isolation, but rather an endless source of connectedness and comfort. My offline life is so much richer for it.

Inspired by Summer, I wanted to take my own trip down memory lane — a briefer jaunt than hers with just three stops, the three sites that have dominated my internet experience and most dramatically influenced my life. This is where I went and what I learned there.

LiveJournal

LiveJournal taught me to never stop writing. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. (One of my earliest memories is sitting at a restaurant with my parents and writing stories that were essentially titles with illustrations. I repeatedly asked my mom how to spell “the,” because the word “the” didn’t make any sense, and frankly still doesn’t. I digress.) But LiveJournal made writing a part of my daily life again. It taught me that writing was an escape when I desperately needed one. The more I shared, the better I felt. In those early days, I had very few readers and I knew who they were — though, of course, my LiveJournal was public because I was too naive to think twice about that — but I was writing as much for myself as I was for anyone else. And yet, I can’t deny the gratification that came from a positive response. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit LiveJournal also taught me the thrill of instant validation, one of the internet’s double-edged swords.

Soon enough I was meeting new people on LiveJournal. Roxy and I were introduced through a mutual friend, but the internet is where we forged a real connection. It wasn’t until we were older and she was driving (I was late to that) that we relied more on IRL hangouts. And even then, we continued to communicate through LiveJournal comments, because that was the world we knew and the language we spoke. Through LiveJournal, I met the first boy who ever broke my heart, the first boy who ever got me to admit to myself — and soon after to a few trusted friends — that my feelings for the same sex weren’t going away any time soon. That boy, whom I found through a shared interest in Buffy, left me comments on my posts that melted my teenage heart, until we took it to AIM and stayed up all night talking about kissing each other. (That’s how innocent it was.) And when that boy moved on, because he was a year older and an hour away and maybe it was all just a game to him anyway, I went to therapy for the first time. My therapist asked if I liked boys or girls, and I didn’t hesitate before answering.

LiveJournal taught me to step outside of my comfort zone in a way I never thought possible. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, awkward around new people, and deeply afraid of most social interactions, but suddenly I was making new friends — and connecting in new ways with old friends — without breaking a sweat. I had a photo on LiveJournal, but it was carefully selected and cropped and flattering enough that I didn’t cringe to look at it. I rarely posted any other photos at all. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was being judged not for my looks, but for my words, and my words were where I thrived. I didn’t feel fat or ugly because my words weren’t fat or ugly, and even if I still felt out of place at high school, I knew that there was a haven to which I could always retreat. It was a place where I could speak freely and people would listen. I could talk about my crush — I used the gender-neutral acronym O.O.M.O. (“object of my obsession”) to refer to him — and my parents and my anxiety. And I was not alone.

Facebook

I got Facebook the summer before I started college at Berkeley, back when it was still only available to certain colleges. (And you better believe I had a superiority complex about that. I was 17. Give me a break.) I envisioned it as a way to keep in touch with my high school friends, so many of whom were going to Facebook-approved schools like UCLA and USC. And it was that, for a while. But Facebook quickly taught me how to distance myself from high school, and from a version of myself I was never all that comfortable with. It wasn’t my first social network — I’d been on Friendster and MySpace — but it was the one that somehow meant the most. (It’s also the only one I still use, which certainly means something.) It was through Facebook that I discovered the ability to fashion an online persona, not drastically different from who I really am, but slightly cooler and more confident. With Facebook, I could choose what I wanted to present to the world, and that was such a rare gift. I didn’t feel like I was stumbling, because I was crafting my own path.

“Online persona” has a negative connotation, and I get that, but I wasn’t trying to be someone else entirely. Even in the pre-Catfish days, when I probably could have gotten away with it, I never pretended to be anyone other than myself. If anything, Facebook allowed me to be a truer version of that person, someone who could honestly declare The Rules of Attraction to be one of his favorite movies, and Maurice by E.M. Forster to be one of his favorite books. My so-called online persona turned out to be composed of the aspects of myself I’d been repressing out of fear and discomfort. One of the most pivotal moments in my life — and again, this used to embarrass me, but now I don’t care — was adding a sexual preference to my Facebook profile. I am Louis Peitzman, and I am interested in men. It was paradoxically so simple to do and an incredible feat. Before Facebook, I didn’t have the means to announce myself with the click of a button. What a thrill to be brave and lazy at the same time.

After that things changed quickly. My new out status on Facebook brought in an influx of friend requests — it was a small enough community back then, relatively, that some people took notice — and I was suddenly confronted with the idea of meeting people from the internet. The “stranger danger” alarms went off in my head, but Facebook had stripped away a certain level of anonymity that I’d always associated with internet friends. There was a very sweet boy who added me and told me I was cute, and one night I let him come over and kiss me in my bed. I didn’t feel unsafe — my roommates were home at the time — but I must have felt something, because I shivered the whole time, even when he held me. It was exciting and terrifying to know how easy it was to make a connection, whether that meant someone to fuck or someone to fall in love with. As Facebook grew so did the possibilities, and at times I felt paralyzed thinking about all the people, the vast majority of whom I would never meet, but I also felt a little bit of cautious optimism because I knew some of those strangers might one day become my friends or lovers or more.

Twitter

I’ve written a lot about Twitter and what it’s done for me, but I can’t leave it out of this trifecta. Apologies if I’m repeating myself, though if you’re still reading this, that’s on you. I joined Twitter because I wanted to share my writing and find an audience. That happened. But what I found that truly changed everything for me was how much I enjoyed laughing and making people laugh. In very little time, Twitter went from a tool for self-promotion (hey, not that I’ve moved past that entirely) to a place where I could explore and refine my comedic voice. I am not a comedian or a humorist — I guess at the end of the day I’m just a writer with a sense of humor. But I found so much joy and laughter following some of the funniest people I’ve ever known. And the ability to keep up with them, or at least lag behind from a minimal distance, gave me a newfound confidence in my writing. As committed as I was and still am to journalism and entertainment writing, I pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could do with my words. Twitter, which I had joined as a tool, turned out to be a new outlet entirely.

And with that confidence, I did something I never thought I would do: I got on stage. Not as a stand-up comic, which still terrifies me, but as a storyteller, which felt much more in my wheelhouse. Twitter unlocked something in me — many somethings really: among them, a desire to make people laugh and a need to perform, both of which had been suppressed by intense social anxiety. The more I perform, the more I realize how much it’s always been inside me. Twitter merely facilitated that by letting my find the comedic voice I needed to tell these stories, and to make the connections that gave me a stage to tell them on. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll probably write about it again, because I still marvel at the fact that typing words into a tiny box on a screen somehow allowed me to overcome a lifelong fear of standing up in front of an audience. I don’t have delusions of making my living as a performer or a TV personality, so maybe it’s all inconsequential. But what used to terrify me is now something to look forward to. To me, that’s a powerful thing.

What means more to me, than anything really, are the friends I’ve made through Twitter. I know how ridiculous I sound when someone asks how I met any number of people, and I answer with the same deadpan “Twitter” because I don’t know what else to say. But I also know I’m past the point of caring. LiveJournal taught me that the friends you make online are sometimes better than the friends you make in person. You can bond with people based on shared passions and senses of humor instead of being thrown together by circumstance. Facebook let me continue that exploration, opening my world up and letting in people I never would have met otherwise. By the time I started to connect with people on Twitter, I understood the power of the internet to create and foster relationships. As silly as it may sound to some (it sounds a little silly to me), I found my chosen family. But I’ve also found myself, an ongoing process that involves stripping away insecurities and speaking out without being ashamed. That’s what the internet has done for me. I’m a little embarrassed to be this gushy and grateful, but the internet has also taught me that sometimes sincerity works, too.

I visited your grave today

23 Nov

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 5.52.40 PM

I visited your grave today. There was no gravestone, only flowers. I wanted to see your name on the off chance it would give me some kind of closure. I know the more likely scenario is that I’d see it and I’d be hit hard with the reality of your absence. I’d buckle to my knees, sob hot tears onto the grass. But as it was, I simply sat there amid the flowers and imagined you were somewhere else entirely. I wanted to feel close to you but today it was more comforting imagining that you were very far away.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary, and I’m no closer to understanding any of this than I was then. And yes, I still reach for my phone to call you, and I check to see if you’re online, and I feel a pit in my stomach because I think, “It’s been too long since I’ve seen Roxy,” and then I remember and the pit deepens and threatens to swallow me whole. At times I feel like I’ve been grieving you forever. Other moments it’s like you never left.

There’s so much I want to tell you, and I wish all of it were good. I wish I could say that things were better than ever, that I had found a way to not be lonely or, even better, that I had learned how to let someone else in. I wish I could tell you I had gotten myself into shape or that I had decided to love myself as I am. It’s terrible to know that I’m incomplete, because that means you never got to see me whole. Not that it’s about me at all, really, but so much of my self-worth was tied into showing you how far I’d come, even knowing I had a ways to go.

On the way to the cemetery, I drove past my high school. My 10-year reunion is fast approaching, and I can’t count all the reasons I’m not going, but today I remembered how spending time with you was my respite from all that. I don’t want to go back to high school because, even now, with a job and a life and a place of my own, I can’t survive high school without you. I don’t even want to try.

Most days I’m fine. “I’m fine” becomes a mantra in its meaninglessness. But I know you, more than anyone else in my life, could understand the value of being “just OK,” that sometimes leaving the house is its own tiny victory, and not letting dread consume you is an ongoing battle. I know you wouldn’t judge me when the darkness takes over, but I still want to be better because I know that’s what you would want for me. And I want to make you proud the way that you made me proud.

I want to write a book just so I can dedicate it to you.

Usually when I write about my grief, I hope that it serves a purpose past my own self-indulgence. But sometimes I just need to document it all. Like today, I visited your grave and I didn’t know what to bring, so I didn’t bring anything. And I’m leaving you this instead.

But alone is alone

24 Jun

It occurred to me at 4 a.m. this morning that I was lonely.

It was an odd but familiar sensation, a sort of sinking in my stomach battling for prominence with the two bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I’d decided to eat when I was half-asleep and hungry and justifying poor dietary decisions as a really early breakfast. I felt grossly full — and also, kind of gross in general. But the feeling I couldn’t really pinpoint was the one lingering underneath that, whatever subtle nagging urge had me curled up on my bed with my head near the foot so the fan would be even closer, even though for once I wasn’t sweating. And I realized, with sudden unwelcome clarity, that what I was feeling was loneliness, a state of being I once knew so well but has since become something I’ve come to regard as a childish affectation. Being lonely is for teenagers who write poetry and read Camus and make declarative statements about love two months after receiving their first kiss. (This is not me. I read The Stranger, but only when it was assigned for class.)

Logically, I know that loneliness is an incredibly common emotion, which is probably why human beings are always obnoxiously wrapping our arms around one another. I, too, crave physical contact, but at this point, I accept that begrudgingly as an irritating side effect of not being a robot. Companionship, while nice, is something I don’t often feel I need, and I say that as someone who genuinely loves the people in his life. It’s not a reflection on them, but on me, and the way I’ve learned, sometimes by necessity, to be comfortable by myself. And I go through phases, yes, where I truly do feel the need to be surrounded by people I love as often as possible, when I’ll double-book myself just to ensure I don’t have to spend too much time with my thoughts. But even then, if plans fall through and I’m left as solitary as I’d feared, it’s not loneliness I feel. Frustration, annoyance, and boredom, sure — not loneliness.

That’s why I was so caught off-guard at 4 a.m. this morning. It felt so absurd to me that I would be experiencing this useless concern I’d grown past. But of course, it’s completely normal and human, and the only truly strange thing is that I’d ever believed myself to be beyond loneliness in the first place. I don’t think of myself as a cold person. I’m not withdrawn. I guess it’s more that I’ve come to resent the idea of living your life with the purpose of finding someone else to share it with. And that’s not cynicism so much as hope that we can all be self-fulfilled, to the extent that any sort of coupling, conscious or otherwise, we entertain is an added benefit to an already complete existence. I still believe that, to some extent, even though it’s perhaps a bit short-sighted. And I still maintain that far too many people stuff themselves into relationships that very clearly don’t fit out of the vague but terrifying dread of dying alone. All of this can be true, and I can still have felt lonely at 4 a.m. this morning, without any real prompting aside from the fact that the pillow I was clutching to my chest had become too warm with body heat and I had to let it go.

But I guess this is all to say that, rationality aside, I could stand to let a little more loneliness into my life. And maybe someone else, if it came to that, but it’s OK if it doesn’t.

12 longform BuzzFeed pieces you should read

18 May

BuzzFeed: it’s not just cat GIFs, jackass. That’s not our slogan, but sometimes I think it should be.

At this point, people who read BuzzFeed know that it’s not just a site for cute animal pictures and personality quizzes. I mean, it is those things, yes — but it’s also home to some of the best investigative reporting and longform writing on the internet. I’ve worked at BuzzFeed long enough to not be surprised when people don’t get it, and I no longer feel the need to get overly defensive about it. I’m proud of the work I do, and I’m proud of the work my colleagues do, and I feel like the work speaks for itself.

But given that it’s Sunday evening, and Sunday evening is the ideal time to read long articles you’ve been putting off all week, I’m going to share several of my favorite longform BuzzFeed pieces. This is not to discount the lists and quizzes that also populate the site — because believe it or not, those take a shit-ton of work to put together, too. (Seriously, I have spent so many hours perfecting quizzes. Unless you’ve done it, you have no idea.) But in the interest of celebrating the kind of work people still seem surprised to find on BuzzFeed, I’m focusing on essays, reported pieces, and other longform features.

Some of them are recent. Some are older. You’ve probably read a few already. And I’m leaving out dozens and dozens of pieces I love so as not to make this too overwhelming. With that in mind, I’ll probably end up doing another installment of this in the future. Anyway.

1. “The Secret History of Britney Spears’ Lost Album” by Hunter Schwarz. Hardcore Britney stans may have already known about Britney’s lost album Original Doll. I was not one of those people. Hunter did some impressive reporting on this piece, which not only covers Original Doll, but also offers insight into the psyche of one of the most confounding figures in pop music. On a personal note, it was exciting watching Hunter dig deep into a subject he doesn’t usually get to write about. The results were equally thrilling.
2. “How Smash Became TV’s Biggest Train Wreck” by Kate Aurthur. I loved Smash so, so much. I miss it more often than I’d like to admit. Kate didn’t set out to write a takedown of creator Theresa Rebeck — and that’s not what this piece is, regardless of how Rebeck may feel about it. It’s revelatory and occasionally damning, but it’s also very fair. You can tell there’s no agenda here past trying to understand where Smash went wrong, and for a fan of the show — and a fan of television in general — that’s incredibly important.
3. “The Summer I Tried to Save Memphis” by Saeed Jones. Saeed started at BuzzFeed shortly after I did, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching him expand the LGBT section, combining great reporting with some of the most stunning personal essays I’ve ever read. And Saeed, aside from his skills as an editor, is an exceptional writer. This piece is undeniably powerful, but what I really love about it is its specificity. He writes with such gorgeous detail about an intensely personal experience — with, yes, larger cultural implications.
4. “‘Something Terrible Has Happened Here': The Crazy Story of How Clue Went From Forgotten Flop to Cult Triumph” by Adam B. Vary. We’re not huge fans of the term “oral history” at BuzzFeed, and with good reason. As a format, it’s a little played out, and very hit or miss. So while Adam could have done an oral history of Clue — which would have been great, too, I’m sure! — he turned his interviews into this excellent written-through feature instead. It’s just as fascinating, and even more fun to read.
5. “‘That Dead Girl': A Family and a Town After a Cyberbullied 12-Year-Old’s Suicide” by Ryan Broderick. We hear awful stories on the internet all the time, and more often than not, we don’t follow up. Following up is what this heartbreaking piece does. It’s the perfect example of BuzzFeed going deeper — not simply reporting the surface story, but diving into the hard truths of a suicide and its aftermath. Ryan’s unique understanding of the internet also really helps here, adding valuable context to the story.
6. “How Melissa Leo Became an Overnight Sensation in Just 30 Years” by Doree Shafrir. I’ve been lucky enough to have Doree edit my work — she completely changed the way I felt about the editing process. But Doree does so much at BuzzFeed that she rarely gets to publish her own pieces. When she does, they’re always a treat. I love this interview feature on Melissa Leo, which, again, could have made an interesting enough Q&A. As a feature, though, it’s far more memorable. Worth noting that the photos are pretty wonderful, too.
7. “Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500″ by Drew Philp. In addition to having a staff of some incredibly talented writers, BuzzFeed also recruits great freelancers. This piece, which you’ve probably seen since it went mega-viral, is by a contributor. Plenty has been written about Detroit over the past few years, but this is a different story and perspective, which I think is why it shared so well. Again, it’s specificity that speaks to the larger issues at hand. Also, how cool is it that longform writing can go viral? (Very.)
8. “Jennifer Lawrence and the History of Cool Girls” by Anne Helen Petersen. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot of Jennifer Lawrence-centric content on BuzzFeed. People love her, clearly, and if you need more proof of that, note that this piece also went viral. Page views aside, it’s such a great essay, placing Jennifer Lawrence in a historical context that most of us probably hadn’t considered. Celebrity culture is easy to deride, but it’s so much more interesting to analyze, and this feature does that brilliantly.
9. “It Gets Better, Unless You’re Fat” by Louis Peitzman. Am I seriously including one of my own pieces on this list of articles you should read? I’m an asshole. But listen. When people ask me about writing I’m proud of, this is the piece that most often springs to mind. It took a lot out of me to write. And even though it’s not very long, I think it packs a punch. While I feel a little guilty self-promoting, I’m including it because I’m so grateful that BuzzFeed gave me the freedom and encouragement to share this little piece of my soul.
10. “My Father, All That Jazz, the 1980 Oscars — and Me” by Kate Aurthur. Yes, another article by Kate. I was reluctant to double up, but I just had to share this one. Kate’s personal essay was one of the first I read on BuzzFeed, and it was so exciting to know that this kind of writing was something we could do. It’s a moving, bittersweet piece that completely subverts expectations of a first-person account of attending the Oscars. And like so much of Kate’s work, both before and at BuzzFeed, it’s been a big influence on me.
11. “36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump” by McKay Coppins. The controversy this piece brought about — especially the glorious freak-out from professional troll Donald Trump — was fucking delightful to watch. But let’s not ignore the fact that the article itself is truly great. I’ll admit I don’t read much political reporting, though I certainly admire my coworkers who write it. This goes beyond simple reporting, however: It’s a completely riveting character study. And sorry, Donald, I believe every word of it.
12. “Why I Stay Closeted in Asia” by Connor Ke Muo. Before Coming Out Week at BuzzFeed, I felt about coming out essays the same way I feel about coming out films: enough already. But Saeed made a point to collect personal essays that weren’t like anything people had read before. This one, in particular, has stuck with me over the past seven months. It’s honest and it’s painful, the kind of piece I felt immediately compelled to share with gushing praise across all my social networks. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself the favor.

Voicemail

28 Apr

Hi, Roxy.

I keep reaching for the phone to call you. In those few seconds before the reality dawns on me, I take comfort in knowing that I’m moments from hearing your voice — that even if you don’t pick up, I’ll hear your outgoing message. And I’ll leave a voicemail, despite the fact nobody likes checking their voicemail, because whatever, you can deal with it. Sometimes even after I come to my senses and I feel the reality of your absence, a sensation not unlike falling, I think about calling you, anyway. I don’t think your voicemail is still connected, but maybe — and then I could leave a message you’ll never hear (you weren’t going to check it regardless) and it would almost be like talking.

I’m still not sure what I believe in when it comes to the afterlife, but I like to imagine you floating in the clouds somewhere, annoyed at the fact that you’re still getting voicemails, but mostly just frustrated that you can’t call me back. Believe me, it’s hard for both of us.

I wonder what you’d think of the way I air my grief in public. It’s something I’m still not sure I should be doing — yes, even as I’m doing it — but it remains the best way I know how to cope. From a young age, I learned that for me writing was the first step toward healing. And the second step, the more important step, was to put that out into the world, as scary and shameful as it sometimes feels. I guess the hope is that someone reads it and relates, that maybe I could help that person, but I think on a more basic level, I just want my pain to be heard. Otherwise I’m screaming into the abyss.

Put it this way: I need someone to listen to my voicemail.

I question my use of metaphors, my stylistic flourishes, the fact that I try to create something meaningful out of my grief instead of just writing “I miss you I miss you I fucking miss you” over and over again. Perhaps it’s self-indulgent — that I’m not just offering up something bare and raw —  but crafting language is how I process my thoughts. This is what happens when you major in English and you’re a little bit pretentious.

If I were leaving a voicemail, I’d keep it brief and tell you that, yes, I think about you every day, and some days are harder than others. I’ll feel fine and then a certain memory will needle its way into my thoughts, and suddenly I’ll find myself sobbing on the arm of my couch. But I’d also want you to know that I’m OK, that sometimes I’m actually pretty damn good. I am flawed in all the ways you knew me to be flawed and loved me anyway, and I am working to get better in all the ways you would have wanted to me to. On the good days I know that I can make you proud.

I didn’t know what I was going to write when I opened this page. I just knew that my eyes were welling up with tears because once again I thought of something to tell you, reached for my phone, and was struck by the fucking injustice of your death. It’s stupid and rude and I will never get over it. There is, as I think I’ve said before, a Roxy-shaped hole in my heart. As grateful as I am for all the love that surrounds me, nothing’s ever going to fill that back up.

(OK, I’ve given it more thought, and realistically, if there is an afterlife, voicemail is an eternal punishment, not the kind of thing you’d be subjected to in paradise. Besides, I’d like to think that wherever you are, you’re surrounded by all of us who loved you and will always love you. We exist there and here at the same time, which is exactly the kind of hippie bullshit belief system we might have laughed at back in high school. I mean, it’s still a little silly, but it’s comforting, so I’m going to hold onto it anyway.)

This is now verging on a ramble, the kind that I would instantly regret if it really were a voicemail. I try not to talk about these things too much: I don’t have a monopoly on grief, and I’m only one of many who misses you. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m a constant weepy mess, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not me. I am someone who does his best to hold it together, who sometimes needs to force himself to ask for help, who can be fragile or strong depending on the hour, and who honestly never would have made it this far if you hadn’t been there to help me along the way. I do cry, but I also smile — and that’s as much as credit to you as the tears.

I wish you hadn’t even read this, that you saw the missed call and were already calling me back.

Happy belated birthday

2 Mar

Last week I got a birthday card from Roxy, five months after my birthday, three months after her death. Earlier that day, at lunch, I had been saying how much I wished I could write about the good memories, the nights we spent eating too much and laughing too hard over the kind of inside jokes that best friends accumulate over nearly a decade of being best friends.

I’m not there yet. It’s still too fresh. Her absence cuts too deep. And while I’d like to look back and smile — and I do! sometimes, I actually do — I can’t enjoy the memory and share it, because I’m distracted by the way her story ends.

The card encapsulates that perfectly, I think, because it’s ridiculous and funny in a way that Roxy appreciated. Which is to say that it’s a giant talking pickle that spouts out awful puns when you open it. But it’s also almost too upsetting for me to look at. Even having it in the house — I keep it next to the program from Roxy’s funeral — is bittersweet. I’m so grateful for this tangible heartfelt message, but its mere existence brings the loss into focus.

And so I’m left with the same hope I mentioned before I got the card, that eventually the sadness won’t be so overwhelming that it dwarfs the joy. One day I’ll be able to blog about Roxy and it won’t be the same mournful dirge. And I’ll appreciate the card for its sense of humor — so distinctly Roxy in my mind — without feeling the lump in my throat that comes from the words inside. I want it to become the kind of reminder that keeps me warm when I’m missing her, and not something I’m almost afraid to touch.

Because eventually the pickle is going to stop talking. That’s maybe the most ridiculous concern I’ve ever had, but the thought of it has made me well up on more than one occasion since I got the card. Once that happens, I’m worried I’ll feel even more alone, left with only the words. They’re good words, and they’re Roxy’s, but I don’t know when they’ll stop feeling like a punch in the gut: “Every year since we’ve met, we both get better and more fabulous. I look forward to who we’ll become and celebrating more birthdays with you.”

At least now, the pickle’s still rattling off puns — “Oh my gherkin, it’s your birthday! Hope you relish every second of it” — so I can smile through the tears. I’m not sure what happens next.

Addiction and free will

2 Feb

No one chooses to be an addict. Addiction is a painful, relentless, life-destroying force. The idea that anyone would make a conscious decision to live life that way — constantly in search of the next fix and an unattainable high — is absurd. Calling it a disease always feels limiting to me: “Disease” implies that there’s a cure. No one who picks up a cigarette or a bottle or a needle thinks that this will become the thing they can’t control. Addiction builds and it takes hold of you so suddenly you don’t notice it happening. By the time you realize how deep in it you are, you’re already stepping it up to harder drugs and dreading the agony of withdrawal. No one chooses to relinquish control.

No one chooses to stay an addict either, because once you’re an addict, you don’t have that kind of choice. Getting treatment isn’t a choice so much as a battle for survival, and it’s always easier said than done. A stint in rehab teaches you coping skills, but it doesn’t make the cravings go away. The program works, but you have to work it, and that takes a kind of strength many of us don’t have. Sobriety doesn’t fix the emptiness that until that point you’ve been self-medicating. It’s a coping mechanism for a world that is scary and fucked, for brains that are scary and fucked. No one chooses to need drugs to feel whole — or just to feel normal.

And no one chooses to die. Even those who take their own lives are fighting against depression so severe that suicide feels like the only option, and no one chooses that unbearable misery. Death is fucking infuriating, which is why we’re so eager to assign blame. To an outsider, death by overdose looks selfish: You chose to get high, you got careless, you died and left your family and loved ones behind to deal with your absence. But selfishness suggests free will, and addiction robs you of that. No one chooses to give it up willingly, and once it’s gone, it’s a fucking endless struggle to get it back.

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