I spent the last week in Detroit.
This isn’t the suck-fest it usually is. In fact, it was downright pleasant. My parents, bless their souls, spent their time and (increasingly precious) money spoiling me rotten, and seeing my sister and her fiancée is always fun. Despite being ground zero for the current financial armageddon plaguing the country, the place radiated the same slow-drip echoes of life I’d come to expect of the place.
My post-adolescent anger at the land has long since dried up, and now whenever I visit I’m constantly in awe at the pace of life there; how every emotional impact seems absorbed and slowed as if suspended in a giant vat of Karo syrup. It’s something that I can only appreciate in low doses, but that I can appreciate it at all is progress. And after the punishing few months I’ve spent trapped in a vicious circle of self-doubt and defeat, it was exactly the healing I needed to step back and redefine my path.
That said, the path wasn’t exactly a clear one. The day after Thanksgiving was my 10 year high school reunion. Now, having been someone who never fit in among those his own age, to say I was apprehensive about this reunion was an understatement. I wanted to attend, if for no other reason than to sate my curiosity. I’d made a clean break with a large cast of characters that had followed me for years, and I was admittedly overcome with curiosity as to what became of them, for better or worse. At the same time, I was absolutely terrified of being judged by the same group of milquetoast preppy kids that had failed to accept me years earlier.
After a lengthy review of my personal appearance, I nervously drove my mother’s SUV to downtown Birmingham, a small suburb that fancies itself the Beverly Hills of Detroit. (Not having driven at night in 8 years I was white-knuckle the entire trip.) I walked in and to my surprise was greeted by a small group of guys I remembered well with appreciation and fond memories. These were nice people, and while I didn’t have much to say to them, it gave me some much needed self-confidence.
Conversations generally had a three-minute life to them: I would reintroduce myself, they would reintroduce themselves, we’d feign excitement at seeing each other again and perhaps regurgitate a random memory of the other person, recap what we’d been up to lately, and then find ourselves without further topics of mutual interest. Stammering after a few seconds of awkward silence, we’d politely excuse ourselves and move onto the next person. The lack of name tags meant we were constantly guessing as to who each other were if we didn’t recognize them (we’ve all put on a lot of weight), so some conversations were a polite game of chicken, each of us trying to hide the fact that we MIGHT be able to place the other person’s face, but the name utterly escaped us.
After regurgitating the last decade of my life in sound bite form several times, I became mindful of just how lame it sounded. I wasn’t going for my doctorate, I didn’t have any major credits to my name. In fact, I really had very little to brag about. I began to sweat, and as the loud bar with laser lights and loud music and hockey on the TV started to fill up, I had a sense of panic as my eyes swung across the room, looking for someone who might be open to conversation. As my prospects increasingly dimmed (especially among the women — I never had much interest in those fake and judgmental cunts, and they returned the favor) I decided I had to get the hell out of there.
I don’t regret going. It allowed me to finally close the chapter on that period of my life. Those people don’t matter in any way, and never really did. Also, I had rejected them as much (perhaps more) than they rejected me. But my panicked state was made worse by two things: that I had accomplished so little, and that I had left the car’s headlights on and the car wouldn’t start. (I called my dad to come out and give me a jump, and then laid back in the driver’s seat and reflected.) The day before, my grandparents had asked me if I had been on television lately. Apparently some family friends had called them excitedly after confusing me with the Saturday Night Live announcer’s introduction of Jason Sudeikis.
As the week wore on and I had time to think, I realized that I’ve been chickening out and short-changing myself. I had deprived myself of the possibilities of becoming somebody interesting by burrowing deeper and deeper into my nerd nest, no longer having the experiences nor the ability to communicate with others in a way my dreams required of me. And I vowed to change that.