Looking out the window of my local bakery cafe everything is covered in a powdery white snow. Roads are slushed over from traffic trying to push through. The skies are a cloudless steel gray. I’ve positioned myself back towards the wall by the window. I can see the entire room with the laptop serving as my shield from anyone here. I can appreciate the weather outside and the sweet pastry on my tongue. Headphones are prominent with my hat’s brim dipped low. From here it’s safe. There’s a slight chill coming from poorly sealed window but this is where I chose to sit in a mostly empty cafe while eating my baked goods. The illusion of being out in the world while remaining disconnected from direct communication with anyone. This is my comfort zone, a refuge in the emotional wasteland that I’ve become. Some here probably think I’m pretentious recluse being self-indulgent or moody. It’s hard not to be aware of it, but it really is harder to be anything different. This is who I am.

There used to be a different Chris that resided here. Childhood passed fast and following that was a teenager who was just trying to hold together in an ever-changing backdrop of adults and support systems. No consistency as I moved nearly once a year as my family failed to be a family. Unlike most stories though there wasn’t really a happy ending. There wasn’t a climatic breaking either that I recall. The credits definitely haven’t rolled yet. With two siblings and both parents consisting of my immediate family, that mostly broke when I hit 13. My parents divorced due to alcoholism on my dad’s part. My siblings were both barely adults and moved out with my mom until they both went their own ways a year or two after that. My sister married and started her own broken family from the emotional luggage she brought in with her. I’d go back and forth between my folks trying to find some balance. For the most part this would come only with any semblance of regularity from video games. At that age you don’t have a car, a job, or any means of escape beyond what your parents would give you. I believe in the guilt of constantly moving me around and trying to make me feel loved they’d gift me games or systems. Even prior to the divorce it was a rocky living bandaged by digital entertainment. The divorce and custody battle just added more to the pile of issues I’d have to learn to deal with alongside ‘the man who’s threatening you isn’t really your father; it’s just the alcohol talking’. At age 13 was a huge milestone for me because most of that drove me to the first game I remember intentionally escaping with, Final Fantasy 7. So if you’re ever looking for a reason why I can’t let that game go, it’s because it was the one that let me live when everything else in my life was falling apart.

Eventually my mom had moved out of state leaving my brother with no better option but to move in with my dad. I remained with my emotionally abusive and unemployable father instead of leaving Michigan. Shortly after that I’d end up dropping out of high school. I moved away from my friends and after a single day of class in the 11th grade I just shut down and refused to move forward. I remember coming home and telling my dad that I wouldn’t be going back to school and he just… didn’t care. There wasn’t a conversation, no discipline. He actually avoided addressing it on any level and we never spoke on it over the next four years I lived with him. My brother never brought it up either, but helped with the finances of the house for two years before it was finally too much for him. He moved out with friend from church and my dad moved in with my sister, unable to support himself since he couldn’t keep a steady job. I realized that I needed to breakaway from this toxic lifestyle. After years of living in EverQuest and only seeing friends on school breaks brought my depression to a peak. By some miracle and some encouragement from friends (both online and off) – I found the strength to go forward with my own life and stop letting others be the excuse I told myself why it wasn’t getting better. I moved in with a friend’s family for a year or two while getting my GED (age 18) and starting up community college. It was just a corner of his room to call my own, but it was enough to bring me into a healthier environment. Once I had stable money I’d spearhead getting an apartment with my brother who was more or less still drifting. His friend from church was getting married so the third wheel that he was had to go. It worked out in my favor as the costs of an apartment solo were too much, but I needed to get control of my life… Plus I was only 20 and you needed to be 21 to get an apartment where we going. The obvious and mutually beneficial decision was made as this continued the way forward for me.

Twenties were great as I kept gaining more and more control of my own life. The distance between my family and I grew and the burden they brought onto me… the burden I brought on to myself was in a steady decline. I’d end up getting married, moving out into a new apartment with my wife and a friend for a year, and eventually we’d buy a house. I was ecstatic since no one in my family had ever bought a house. I’d end up buying a brand new car as well. Life was good, I felt great. I had control.

Well my family continued to be the complete disaster that they always were. My sister caused a lot of drama both inside her family and with the rest of us. My dad ended up gaining some inheritance from his grandmother who had passed. Nothing excessive, but enough to create a means to stand on his own for awhile with reliable transportation and an apartment to live in. By himself. Alone. I don’t want to dig too deep into that but just want to highlight the man who had failed the family and struggling with alcoholism was now secluded from his kids and without a partner. Anyone who’s dealt with depression or alcoholism knows that’s a bad combination. Knowing what I do now the signs are clear as day that he was struggling emotionally. At the time I was too wrapped up with trying to get my own feet under me. I saw him as a risk. I saw him as the burden of family dragging me back down. I saw him as the drunk who’d broken me time and time again as I awkwardly tried to connect with him as a teen and understand what family could be. He was the man who let me drop out of high school because having a conversation about it was too much for him. ‘I don’t owe him anything‘ I convinced myself.

When I bought my house I feared his influence. In the past he’d use my address for signing up for free magazine subscriptions, CD mailing clubs, and a myriad of other things. After his inheritance ran dry he was forced to move in with my sister again. Then with my brother after she couldn’t tolerate it anymore… Then with my mother (his ex-wife) after my sister-in-law couldn’t tolerate it anymore either. I feared my home would be the next place he’d crawl to out of obligation. The trepidation of living with him again was paralyzing. I took the coward’s way out and never gave him the address of my house, never invited him over, and never even mentioned that others had been there. Later I’d here from my mom he’d speak with her wondering ‘when will Chris start having people over? Doesn’t he want to show off his house?’ Well I never got past that as about 6 months after we got the house he’d pass away from a massive heart attack, aged 53 years old. I was out of town when I got the call from my brother crying into the phone. My wife and I were picking up a pizza to take back to the hotel on our anniversary vacation and I just broke down. There had been several close calls over the years where no one would hear from my dad for days. Eventually someone would drive by to check on him and things were okay-ish. This time though was it, he had actually passed away. It didn’t feel real and yet it wasn’t surprising. We were hours away from home and it was late so we opted to stay at the hotel. I was just processing for the rest of the night while nibbling on pizza and zoning out as Game of Thrones played. Oddly at those times you remember the strangest details. For me it was the pole I leaned against when I started crying hearing the news. My wife coming out from the store with pizza held aloft like a waitress jokingly until she realized something was wrong. The toppings on the pizza being overcooked. Then the episode of Game of Thrones with Robin of the Eyrie demanding to watch the small man fly out the Moon Door. All completely trivial bits of data from that moment but have remained with me since then.

The accompanying days and funeral were difficult as my family tried to work together towards preparations. Emotions were high, none of us were financially well off, and words were said during the height of the stress of all of it that 8 years later the speaker still hasn’t followed it up with an “I’m sorry” . My brother and sister never got closure with the relationship or their childhood. I had a period of reconciliation with my father after continued attempts to reach him as a person finally bore fruit, so I was mostly okay with the way things ended. His life was improving, he was serious about working past his alcoholism and trying to find work again. My mom and him made (some) amends after everything he put her through during their marriage. He was in a good place when he passed. My only regret remains from being too scared to invite him over to my house and share in some joy with him. He would have been happy for me and I denied him the ability to see one of his kids succeeding. It’s small, I know. Yet it still leaves me with feelings of guilt and shame to this day.

Here we are in 2018. I’ll be turning 34 this year. Yet I still can’t let go of who I am. Those years have formed me into who I am, for better or worse. Life has been an interesting roller coaster. I’ve found solace at times in music, others in games, and most importantly in belonging with my friends and family that I’ve managed to find despite this all. I try to be upbeat. I know I’m working against a history that expected me to fail. I’m working against genetics with both parents being diagnosed as manic depressives among other psychological ailments. However I still enjoy the chilled corner of the cafe, safely disconnected from all the smiling faces and merry meetings occurring among all the people I’m sharing the room with. I’m still driven to breathe in the melancholy of a life less fortunate. I’m still striving to be a better me. I’m still trying when I can to make others happier so they don’t feel as worthless as I do. I need to make things better for others.

The thoughts are frequent. The depression comes and goes. The willful disconnect from those who could be close enough to hurt me. Trying to keep up with work, hobbies, and life. The one constant in my life now is I’m always exhausted from it all. Take refuge when you can from the emotional wasteland that you’re inhabiting, Chris. You’re going to be alright.

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