My parents were fixated upon my failure to find employment as an engineer after obtaining my degree from Georgia Tech. The notion that I was doing my best yet failing to sell myself as an engineer was unable to penetrate their pre-existing mindset. They would try to reason with me about how this would allow me to go on and get my graduate school education with the money I would be earning. This seemed like a bizarre direction for our communication to take. Obviously, a decent income would allow me to enjoy many benefits. In fact, my self-esteem was taking a tremendous beating for not having a job despite having worked so hard to get a degree in Electrical Engineering.
During my education, I did do the activities that an engineer does. However, I largely was unable to sell myself to any employer. I wish there was a magic formula for doing that. I wish there was some trick that allowed a person to go into an interview and present oneself in the manner in which an employer seeks to find a perfect employee. That's not how it works. There always will be some job applicant that is better at selling himself or herself for the position. Even to this day, I might like working with computers and have some geeky qualities, but I can't sell myself as a software or web developer. There's something that is missing which people intuitively understand.
It is the same thing within a person that another person understands and which we shared, Celta and I. We had a certain similar mindset. We resonated with each other and felt comfortable together. She would hold me in her arms and I would hold her. This was the kind of experience that some ascribe to religious experiences or spiritual experiences. It's when you recognize a sense of awe and wonder.
There were difficult times. She had been drinking and I got her to the hospital. Her weight was so low and I worried about her life. They didn't keep her very long so I got a hotel or motel room in Augusta, GA for her. She knew about my limited experience with dating or lack thereof.
She said, "Now you can say you spent the night in a motel room with a woman" hoping to make the situation seem less painful and disturbing. As much as she hated the idea of hurting me she couldn't stop drinking. She would go on these drinking binges that interrupted our lives together and the joy we had found with each other.
That's what had brought us to this hotel room. The next day I would come to her room and find that she wasn't there. I was totally freaking out. I got down on my knees pleading for help. I did eventually find her but she had not been well. I then took her to her mother's home in Athens, Georgia. I was out of options. I didn't know what to expect.
Arriving at her mother's it seemed that her mother was equally moved by my expression as she was for the demands that would be placed upon her as a mother who was being asked to take in her 32-year-old daughter. Unlike what I would face years later with my own parents, her mother did take her into her home. I did have a look of desperation on my face that must have melted her heart. This would not be the last time I would feel or express this kind of desperation.
My sister would say I am "trashing" her parents when I make these comments but I am bewildered that my desperation was unable to melt the hearts of my parents or my sister. I am sure they would point out how much they did for me as evidence of how much they cared... always avoiding the most important events when they acted without compassion, love, or decency when I needed them most. I know I will never know or understand them.
They (my siblings and my parents) will never understand most of this book that I am writing. It won't register with them at all. No visionary revelations could alight upon us to birth some miraculous event. The singular power of love cannot pierce the darkness of the abyss that has separated me from my siblings and my parents.
Celta's father rented a room for her in Athens. It wasn't far from where her mother lived. I would visit her there. Our relationship never became intimate. We would curl up together on her bed and hold one another. Sometimes I would assume a fetal position. I would travel on the weekend to see her when I wasn't working. She and our love was a form of nourishment that sustained me.
That would all come to a tragic end that was excruciatingly painful for me. On New Years Day of 1991, I got the news. "Celta died last night."
"How?" I asked not knowing what else to say. I wanted to find some answer which would contradict this reality. The question of how was a statement of denial and protest.
I think that was the first time I cried in my life after putting down the phone and learning about the funeral. It seemed like the most wicked thing that had ever been done to me. Who was to blame?
Celta did smoke and a fire had started in her apartment that was at the bottom level of a home. The TV chord caught fire, I think. I had to fight with an image of her small body lifeless or dying on the grass outside. They told me she died of smoke inhalation but the images that flooded my mind were more disturbing and harrowing.
They had a closed casket at her funeral in the Episcopalian church that we both attended with her mother. I was clearly a wreck. I had this troubling urge to free her from the casket and an equally troubling fear of how she might appear with burns. I stood frozen and transfixed at the casket as it lay in the back of the church.... waiting for something to happen, something to change.
I had more tears to shed than all the others who had attended the funeral. My tears were uncontrollable and this event was so painful... this reality was overwhelming my abilities to cope.
Outside her mother told me not to attend the burial. I was in no condition to make decisions on my own at that point. I would drive back to a place that could not possibly offer me consolation. To be honest, nothing and no one could possibly console me for a long time.
I would seek to escape in alcohol and some prescribed anti-depressants. There was a medication that had a sedating effect in addition to being an anti-depressant. It attempted to create a chemical state of mind that would not rely on any form of reality to change. In other words, I could say that this the end of the world but I felt fine or rather I had the chemical equivalent of feeling okay. I would give AA a try in Augusta because that's what a person does when you are drinking all the time. The group and my sponsor never seemed to get it.
They would act as if all I had to do was stop drinking and things might get better. I knew that they were not interested in how I had found myself drowning in this river. My father went with me to the first meeting but he never knew how or why I had found myself in this situation. I was slowing ending my life because it seemed like a cruel existence. Escape seemed like the most logical answer.
Panic attacks would follow me for a few years after this along with feelings of being outside of my body and my self, as it were. I felt like I was sinking or falling, floating, and unable to find an anchor. These panic attacks would seem to come on without warning. Sometimes I was convinced that I was dying and I would become frightened. It was very strange to both seek to end my existence and also feel terrified of the thought of dying.
There were a few elements that saved my life back then. One was the career plans that I had. I had been working at Georgia Regional Hospital, a psychiatric hospital and that gave meaning to my life. It nurtured me and comforted me. I found meaning in the helping profession. I also had a friend, Martin Kirby, who was a friend of the family. My mother did suggest that I might have an interest in poetry and that I should talk to him about that.
I do have to give her credit for noticing something that truly did matter to me specifically. Writing poetry and being a poet would never gain the respect and attention that I sought from my parents and siblings. The relationships I made in Wilmington later would not be recognized for the value they meant to me. Nearly everything me seemed like it had become a mystery that they would never unravel. If I wasn't making it as an engineer it was a sign of rebelling and stubbornness no matter how illogical that kind of thinking might be. I mean at a minimum it would provide me with the obvious resources to strike out on my own and make my own life decisions.
Yet, still 30 years later, what my sister brought up to me is the fact that I didn't go about getting a second degree the right way. I was supposed to work as an engineer if I wanted recognition and to go to school, graduate school in the evening. Failing that was like this reality that made no sense to me at all 30 years after the fact.
The other thing that sustained me was a kid that was an adopted daughter of one of the friends of my parents. They were in their late fifties when they adopted a young girl. I had joined my parents for a visit to their friends. Immediately the girl took an interest in me. It was amazing how outgoing she was. I had assumed every kid would be shy around an adult like me. I was 24 and 25 during this period of time in 1991.
I would be like a big brother to her. I would love to visit as often as possible. Forget about hanging out with the adults, I wanted to hang out with her. I wish I could remember her name. She would be in her forties now. How time flies. I think she became a doctor. Oh, well. She would be about the same age as my current wife. I was also hanging out with my brother John who was still in high school at this time. The narrative around that would be distorted beyond recognition, also.
The last time I had seen or spent time with my brother was before I moved to Wilmington, NC. We were good friends at that time and so I was happy for him that he had been starting his own family like I was. I was about to fall in love again myself. I was about to fall in love with Lynn and find success in a career. The seeds of that career were being planted in nineteen ninety (1990), the year after I got my undergraduate degree.
All of this is news to them. So many issues had been twisted beyond recognition if they were recognized at all. Most of my life has been a mystery and not something that I found they wanted to understand at all. The who, what, when, where, and why are important matters for you dear reader but not something that ever interested my parents or siblings, not really. I thought for a while my brother accepted me.
I can't truly say that we had a connection. It's hard to know for sure about things like this. Maybe it was impossible to have a relationship with my parents and with me. He could get away with things I would never dream of doing. He would stand up to our parents. He would leave the home and drive off in his car full of confidence and strength that I admired. The best I achieved was a willingness to hang up on my mother when she became abusive, verbally, and emotionally. John would confront them when they became physically abusive and tried to assault him.
My sister was too small to do that and I was too weak and passive. Granted I did develop a passive-aggressive impulse.
It was during that first year after college after I had my undergraduate degree in engineering that I found comfort in my relationship with Celta for coping with the abuse of my parents. Celta had seemed to sense in some intuitive way what I had been experiencing with my parents. When I saw her she would tell me she had been thinking about me and worried about how I was doing in that household. She could intuitively sense my pain even when I didn't explain it to her.
She spent her days composing letters that she would share with me about her day. I would treasure those letters. Her letters made me feel like I was with her even when we were apart. I would read them again and again. There is something magical about a person sharing their most intimate thoughts and observations in real-time, uncensored. Some of what she gave me appeared to be constructed in the form of a diary that she was willing to share with me as an intimate look into her heart and psyche. It seemed that I was being shown a movie of her day and the direction her eyes and ears had gone.
I felt her letters to me were like a movie of what she had spent the day observing. This began when she was still in the hospital. Our friendship gave me a window into the experience of a person living in a psychiatric hospital for weeks on end. The only good thing about this was that I knew where to find her every day.
I also knew that she would be expecting me. This connection, this relationship brought great joy and serenity to me. It was a form of nourishment for me.
Previously, I had not known what it was for which I had hungered. I do take away a certain comfort in knowing what I had. I am certain that it was singular in value. Others might think that they have known the same kind of joy and love. Deep down, I believe many have failed to experience the joy I have known. Maybe they didn't know what these singular experiences really are.