Sunday, April 21, 2013

Musings On Boston, Newtown, Life, and "The Dark Knight Rises"

“Not a great few months for you, eh?”
-April 15 text from a friend

Well, I’ve had better. Although at least we got somewhat of a happy ending this time.

In December, the town where I grew up became the site of an international tragedy. On Monday, the same thing happened in the city where I live now. And on Friday, I woke up to a version of Boston that felt like it belonged in an episode of 24. Two homes, two heartbreaks, four months. If this pace keeps up, I will not make it to age 25 without developing a Prozac addiction.
This is Boston. Pretty cool, huh?

I don’t want this to be read as a complaint because, in a sense, I have been absurdly lucky. To have two horrific events happen in such quick succession in two places that mean so much to me but not lose a family member or close friend or even sustain an injury in either seems almost unfair. I am not a victim, and if I’m presenting myself as one, I apologize.

I guess I’m just tired.

I’m tired of getting the breaking news alerts and hoping against hope that everybody — not just the New York Post — is getting the story wrong. I’m tired of getting frantic phone calls and texts and tweets from friends and family, not because I don’t appreciate their concern but because I don’t want my existence to be a constant source of worry for them. I’m tired of events that are supposed to be celebratory, peaceful and safe being interrupted by madmen. I’m tired of seeing familiar, soothing landmarks overrun with police officers and media outlets. And, most importantly, I am tired of reading about dead children. I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but the thought that ran through my mind most often over the past week didn’t stem from sadness or anger but from exhaustion: didn’t we just do this?

I usually try very hard not to think about this because it’s terrifying, but the past week has made it too hard to ignore: what we normally consider “typical days” can become perilous in an instant. Getting out of bed is a risk. Leaving the house is a risk. Getting in a vehicle is a risk. But most of the time when we do these things — when we decide to live, in other words — nothing happens, which makes it easy to assume that nothing ever will. We learned again on Monday that this is not the case, and the fact that it occurred so soon after Newtown has helped me understand a very basic truth: the fact that I am alive is a miracle. There are so many things that could have killed me over the past 24 years, but none of them have, and this is nothing short of amazing.

I don’t appreciate this as much or as often as I should because of how easy it is to fall into the assumption, especially at such a young age, that I am going to live forever. But lately it seems like I’m reminded almost every day that this is not the case. Death exists. It always has, and it always will, and being a nonsmoking twentysomething doesn’t exempt you from it. The bad news is you don’t get to choose when it’s your turn to go. The good news is you do get to choose how to handle this knowledge.

Judging by the events of the past week, it’s pretty clear that Boston has chosen to handle it by being optimistically defiant. By now, you have a plethora of options when it comes to inspirational images that demonstrate this: people running toward the explosions instead of away from them; the national anthem at Wednesday’s Boston Bruins game; the interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The city is going to be fine. I knew that almost immediately after the explosions on Monday, when I walked by a homeless man singing a song about why people should give him change on my way home.

And if Boston can choose this, I think I can, too. To be honest, I’m not even sure what the other option is, but it probably involves never leaving the house, and judging by what I did on Friday during the city’s Dark Knight Rises-style clampdown, I would get bored with that pretty quickly.

Based on the moment of pure terror I experienced on Monday upon realizing how easily those two explosions could have hit me had I decided to leave my office and watch the marathon, I think it’s safe to say that I hope I don’t die for a very long time. But the fact is, I don’t know when it’s going to happen. I’m just not going to let it stop me from living.

I think this attitude is best summed up by a text my mom sent me on Friday morning when the manhunt was still ongoing:

“Text me when they catch him. Busy pouring wine.”

They got him Friday night, mom. No need to stop pouring wine.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Chemical Adolescence

One of the nicest things someone has ever written about me is also one of the funniest. It was a signature in my senior yearbook, and while I don’t remember the wording verbatim, the gist of it was that I was one of the only people my classmate knew who was completely unaffected by the stresses of high school, a quality she admired.

The sentiment wasn’t totally off the mark. I had a great time and a solid group of friends throughout high school despite being a huge nerd, probably because I managed to develop a sense of humor almost immediately after realizing how bad I was going to be at sports. (“Have a good sense of humor” is the first piece of advice I would offer to all young nerds out there. The second piece of advice would be “Do not take advice from me.”) And I think I always knew on some level that any problem an upper-middle-class suburban white teenage male thought he was facing couldn’t actually be a real problem, which helped me keep most of the stereotypical adolescent angst at bay. So, yes, my overall high school experience was fun and largely stress free, especially now that I get to filter all my memories of it through seven years of nostalgia.
This usually wasn't me. But I dabbled.

But there’s one image that comes to mind whenever I read that signature that makes it hard not to laugh about: 16-year-old me going on a run with “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” by My Chemical Romance blaring through my headphones on repeat, upset because a girl doesn’t like me and my world is ending. I may have dealt with the stresses of high school pretty well, but I certainly wasn’t immune to them.

“I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” was always my song of choice when it felt like being a teenager had become too hard. Apart from an early dalliance with Jimmy Eat World, I never really embraced the emo scene (mocking it was a lot more fun), but that track was the exception. Whether it was a girl issue, a grades issue, an I’m-not-having-enough-fun issue or something else, my coping mechanism was almost always the same: put on My Chemical Romance, and go running until I felt too tired to remember what was getting me so worried. It was surprisingly effective.

To be honest, I’m not sure what “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” is actually about. I usually tuned out most of the lyrics to the verses while listening to it and focused solely on the intense, guttural screams of “I’m not okay” that made up the chorus. That was the only part of the song that mattered because that was the only part that I sometimes felt like I needed to say. I’m 16; I’m happy; I’m healthy; but every now and then, I’m still not okay. I promise. I just don’t know why.

Anyway, I eventually got older and more emotionally stable, and my use of “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” as therapy became something to joke about with my older and more emotionally stable friends while we listened to super cool indie music by bands you probably haven’t heard of. And then, a few weeks ago, My Chemical Romance broke up, and I started thinking about that song again. It’s been a while since I’ve needed it as an antidepressant, and I’m much more likely to laugh than feel like the band is speaking directly to me when I hear it nowadays, but that doesn’t change the fact that when I was faking my way through adolescence, it was genuinely helpful in a way that not many other songs were.

So thanks, MCR. And don’t let anyone give you shit about “Welcome To The Black Parade.” Because that’s a pretty epic song, despite the confusing and kind of terrifying video.