The Lengthened Shadow Of A Man

I suppose this post is a reaction to what others have written regarding the death of Robin Williams. Mostly, I think it is born from the deep loathing I feel when I read what imbeciles like Matt Walsh have written regarding the suicide. I would apologize for the harshness of the previous sentence, but I feel no remorse for the hatred I have toward bloated beasts of ignorance like Walsh.

It happened when I was much younger, but the effects have lingered. I started lying after I lost my brother when I was only fifteen. He sprinted away down the driveway in a fit of anger and he was gone from my life. He was without a doubt a victim of what had happened when we were younger. Like myself, he is afflicted with various disorders, not the least of which is his bipolar disorder. I have confided the events of the trauma to one person in the past twenty-seven years, and that person is dead now, along with many of my loved ones.

The lying began as a way to avoid confrontation with my trauma. I wanted (needed) to live in a reality where I was in control of my life and the events that transpired within it. I could not confess, even to myself, what had happened to me, and I still have great difficulty accepting that the events are a real part of my past. I have great difficulty accepting what the damage has cost me throughout my life.

Underneath all of the lying and hiding I tried to treat my neurosis with God. I was raised evangelical and indoctrinated within evangelicalism, like so many other Americans. For many years I studied theology and attempted to adhere to the expectations of that bizarre subculture. I was unaware for some time that I was trading one abuse for another, and when I finally abandoned my faith, I found some measure of spiritual peace. In many ways it has helped greatly to abandon the expectation of some afterlife. The guilt I felt at my disbelief no longer has a hold on me, and for that I am grateful. But, the negative effects of that faith are still present.

For a short while, there was L. She was a wreck, and a victim of monstrous injustice. I am sure the pain of her past still causes her suffering. She lost a great deal and I believe that loss is what drew us together. The two of us are similar, and vastly different, as well. She is much stronger than I am in dealing with the pain. Regardless, her story belongs to her, and I would be a fool to attempt to tell it.

We were in love once and we did our best to care for each other, but our youth and our confusion greatly outweighed the love we felt for each other, and in the end she could no longer get through the layers of lies and facades to the frightened boy beneath. She had to let me go and moved on to become one of the strongest and wisest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Her triumph is something that will never cease to amaze me.

The death of Daniel and the loss of L only compounded the dread and depression inside of me. Their loss and the guilt I felt because of it, coupled with the chronic suffering triggered by my autoimmune disorders became too much to endure, and so one day I drove my car at seventy miles per hour through the rain into a highway median. I left the hospital a few hours later with three bruised ribs, a sprained wrist, and a chest contusion. I went into my job, sat at my cubicle and stared at my computer monitor.

Jared found me in my cubicle with blood on my torn shirt. There were still shards of glass in my long scraggly hair. My manager called me into his office, stared at me in amusement, and sent me home.

Shortly after my first suicide attempt, I quit my job, and began traveling the country. I wanted to get as far away from familiarity and reminders of my sadness as I could. There was a sprint in Chicago. There were months in Brooklyn. I rented a cabin in Paris for the first time. And the lying persisted more fiercely than ever because no one knew me, and I wanted it to be that way because to all of these strangers I was perfectly okay, and my pain did not exist to them. I spent weeks driving around the country, sleeping in rest stops, and camping in state parks. I believe I was trying to reconcile all the guilt I felt about my lying and sadness and misery.

There were entire months lost to me. My friend sold me stockpiled bottles of painkillers he had stolen from his mother. All I knew was that there were empty bottles of percocet scattered on my floorboard and unending periods of fogginess and delusion. I saw my deceased grandmother in my dreams, imploring me to go home and get help. In New Mexico I slept in a wigwam and suffered insane bouts of sleep paralysis and delusions. I saw Daniel and dreamt that he was alive and well in New York. I envisioned pulling back the flap of the wigwam to come and nurse me back to sanity and repair me. Sometimes I sat paralyzed and trembling for hours, staring at my brother’s face in the dark of the tent, covered in sweat and weeping for help.

At times, I would get lonely and return home, until the persisting guilt and despair forced me back into my car, and onto the next city. There were months in the van with LD. There was San Diego where Jordan cleaned up my vomit and comforted me and displayed a tenderness I have only experienced a handful of times. There were moments in the van where I felt like shouting, “someone, please, help me!”

In Nassau, I ate conch, and I drank whiskey. I hid from my life, and I blew my money. Trying to work things out with God had failed so I tried to kill myself with pills, but I only slept and hallucinated about people I missed. Afterward, I took a boat back to the states and headed for Paris where I began writing and drinking myself to death. I still haven’t forgiven myself for leaving the states without telling my mother where I was headed. She lived for three months without knowing if I was dead or alive.

And in Kansas City, Britt and Molly put me to bed when I would drink five-dollar bottles of peach vodka until I vomited and collapsed and went hysterical with grief and madness. And I started to see that at the core of all the grief, and sorrow, and rage, and resentment, was a tremendous guilt. I carried the guilt of all the people I had pushed away with my lying and distrust. I despised myself. But, more importantly, I believed that what had happened to me as a child was my fault. I believed I was to blame for what I had suffered, and I couldn’t say why I believed it, but I did.

When I left Kansas City, I traveled some more, and finally returned to St. Louis where I tried to calm down with God again. And I married and found some measure of peace and stopped drinking and popping pills.

While in Portland I regressed back into my depression, and felt a great despair as my faith in a creator dissipated. This is when I was writing Forest Life. Every night I left and walked through the city to observe and talk with homeless people on the streets. There were tweakers and drunkards and prostitutes. I loved them most of all. No one could understand how I managed to evoke despair in such a raw and unyielding way, but that was the very purest part of myself in the story. And eventually I reconciled with my disbelief in God, and I reconciled with my guilt, and I forgave myself.

We returned home to Missouri, where I have relapsed into heavy drinking many times. (I was especially hit hard when my friend John died a few months ago.) My autoimmune disorders sometimes hospitalize me for weeks on end and the painkillers are often very necessary. There is so much pain in the world and I see all of it, all the time. It never shuts off. While people ramble on about nonsense at gatherings, I stare into the distance and think of it all.

Sometimes it is still overwhelming. It becomes too much for me to brush off, so Anthony implores me to sleep because I go days without it. Aryn comforts and encourages me when I relapse and I stop eating and see only the pain. In the morning she walks into my office to see how my writing has gone through the night. She kisses me and rubs my back and sits beside me.

I fight my way out again and again. I’m finally Shane Fulgham again (I know the website needs a makeover) and I accept what happened to me when I was younger.

And I understand that this raging war within myself will never really be over. Some day it will end, tragically or otherwise, but it will persist until my death. I understand that my disorders are degenerative. They will kill me some day.

The pain is apart of my life and apart of my identity. I chose to stop running and embrace it. It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

If I kill myself tomorrow, it won’t be because I’m a coward, or because I’m selfish.

That’s just the best I can do.

It’s the best any of us can do.

Dinu Lippati In A Thunderstorm

Work on my new manuscript began to steamroll a few weeks ago and I have been careful not to get in the way of progress. There seems to be a tipping point when working on a story that signals the coming together of direction, in the sense that I was fumbling around when I began the novel and am now seeing things more clearly in comparison. I don’t believe you can create intellectually honest work unless you trust yourself to see your vision clearly, concisely, and truthfully.

So much of the new story has been written under the influence of dilaudid, alcohol, and other various narcotics that it seems inevitable those forces would enter the work in some capacity. I am not a junkie, but I’ve spent a fair share of time writing this book in hospital beds. Their effects are present, though not at the forefront of the conflict in the story. Living as a half dead writer means that the forces pushing me forward are characteristically extreme and harnessing them has been invaluable to me, as tragic as that may seem.

It is strange (though not unexpected) to look at the manuscript as a whole and to recognize the subconscious influence of my own life in the lives of fictional strangers.

“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.”

– Annie Dillard

Awaited By All

I woke from a dream last night. It was raining. Thunderclaps shook the room and lightning lit up the sky a few moments afterward. I crawled into the shower when I regained control of my senses, but the memory of the dream was still floating around and the pain it brought with it was beginning to sweep over me. I was experiencing all the further shore reunions I dream of every day. They were torn away from me when I woke up.

Inside me, I felt a despair that I haven’t felt in many years. It swelled up when I accepted that I was back in the darkness of wherever we are now. I suppose it was that familiar existential angst that I try to laugh my way out of with jokes and liquor. It must have resorted to attacking my sleeping mind when I refused to cooperate.

I was much older in the dream and I think I had died. There was some imperceptible understanding that I was in some afterlife and that I had chosen to return to the happiest place of my former life. Naturally, I had returned to Treloar.

Treloar is a tiny unincorporated community off the Katy Trail in Missouri. It’s about ten minutes from my childhood home. There was a bar called Our Place in the center of the community when I was a child. In my dream I had returned to it and was standing outside the small building. I was debating on whether I should enter it. I eventually settled on walking inside – even though there was some sense of dread that I could not understand.

When I entered the bar I saw that everyone I had ever loved from my former life was waiting for me. My grandparents were younger and smiling at me from behind the bar. My family and deceased friends were scattered throughout. I saw the great love of my life walking toward me and I saw my dead friends waving from behind a pool table, toasting their beers to me. They were laughing and waving.

It felt like a lifetime as I walked through the bar embracing everyone. They were all there. I found old childhood friends and the occasional unfamiliar face that somehow elicited an emotional response of sadness and joy I did not understand.

In the shower I sat defeated against the wall, and for the first time since I began writing, I understood fully the story I’m trying to write.

They are alive and well somewhere,

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,

And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end

                     to arrest it,

And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier. 

Walt Whitman