I used to be so much more openminded
And I used to like to fall in love
And they tell me I was so much sweeter and kind
But once is enough
- Lyle Lovett, "Once Is Enough"
I'm officially old.
The designation 'old' can be put on someone or something from outside; I remember being in elementary school and imagining the year 2000, then realizing I'd be thirty-four in the year 2000 and imagining how old that would be. But just because someone calls you old doesn't make you old - any more than someone calling you stupid, smart, or happy makes you any of those things.
There are others who use some variation of 'you're only as old as you feel' as a way of remaining, in some fashion, perpetually 'young'. Even if it takes them two minutes to get out of bed in the morning, and they have to swallow some concoction in order to get their bowels to move regularly, they're still only as old as they feel and dagnabbit! You get the idea.
But for me, the realization came when I finally admitted that I fall into a category I've long used to identify others as old. I'm bitter.
I didn't think this would happen like this. For one thing, I used to be, if not happy, at least some reasonable facsimile of happy. I remember being told as I child that I smiled a lot. I was generally the guy who joked, got along, and tried to keep things light. Fall off the horse, you just get right back on, that kind of thing.
In fact, if I thought about getting old at all, I figured I'd become not the 'bitter old man', but the 'dirty old man', leering at young girls and their short skirts from my senescence. Heck, I might even be one of those old guys that young girls like to hang around with, because I could keep it light, I smiled a lot, and I generally was the kind of guy who made other people feel good about themselves. And if I was a bit creepy from time to time, well, you just had to know me - I'm harmless, really.
I think the harmlessness was part of the problem, in retrospect.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm far from perfect. I've made more than my share of mistakes, and done plenty of stumbling. I was a likable guy, though, and my heart was in the right place, and I was lucky enough to have friends - incredible friends, who'd go out of their way to help me get back on my feet, help dust me off, and pass along words of encouragement as I tilted back into the arena, ready to battle with another monster of my own imagination.
Then I started pushing them away, one by one.
At first, I deluded myself into thinking that this was for their own good - after all, they can't always be there to support me, and the longer they stay around, the longer it'll take for me to be able to stand on my own two feet. Friends I've had for years, in some cases even decades, suddenly stopped hearing from me. When they'd occasionally try to check in, to see how I was doing, I'd respond curtly, in a brief, minimalist tone - the same tone one uses with a telemarketer on the phone to say, nonverbally, "You know, this isn't really worth my time. Could you just take the hint and hang up now?"
Now, I realize I was setting up an impossible task - despite everything my friends have done for me, if they really liked me, they'd do the work of keeping in touch, asking me how I am, offering assistance whether I need it or not. I imagine some of them got the idea that being my friend was only less Herculean than cleaning the Augean Stables. And, little by little, they got the message.
So what happened that finally got me to figure this out now? Why the sudden realization, when I've been doing this for years and years now?
Oddly enough, the Twins.
When the Twins made an improbable comeback to win the AL Central Division, I dismissed it - it wasn't a Twins comeback, it was a Detroit choke. I did research that showed that, of the last 7 teams that won 19 of 20 or more games during a regular season, only one even advanced to the World Series much less won it. I read the Twins blogs cheering about the accomplishments of the ballclub and snickered. Sure, some of the comments were snickerworthy, such as the occasional "this is the best Twins team EVAR". Others who were more circumspect I snickered at as well, even though they made decent points. I refrained from pointing out those points and trying to refute them, though, as I'd already all but worn out my welcome in the Twins blogosphere with the first Contrarian Bias.
When the Twins lost Game 1 - a game that the blogosphere thought was all but in the bag with Johan Santana starting - I was beside myself with pleasure. I even kicked myself a bit for not posting something talking about everyones' misplaced hopes, not just in Santana, but in the allegedly 'great' defense of Jason Bartlett, who booted a routine double-play grounder that, in some explanations, led to Frank Thomas's second homer of the game. But I kept my mouth shut - these folks had heard more than enough from me, and it was actually somewhat disconcerting to think of myself as chuckling over the misfortune of so many whose only crime was that they didn't agree with me. Maybe all I needed was a fresh perspective; something to blow out the bad taste of the stadium extortion nonsense and the overexuberance at a team that fulfilled the Chuck Tanner theory of baseball - if everybody has a good year, we'll win.
So I went out to Athletics Nation, one of the top Oakland A's blogs. There, I saw a community, perhaps loosely-connected, but clearly joyous at the prospect of having their team, dismissed as sad-sack small-market kids unable to compete in the 'post-season' suddenly break through, validating all their hopes. It was nice, even refreshing to read those comments.
Until Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau hit back-to-back homers to tie Game 2, bringing back a flood of old doubts and pre-emptive wailing. And I realized I was enjoying their displeasure much more than I'd enjoyed their happiness.
That's when it hit me that I'm now, officially, a bitter old man. I'm getting pleasure from the misfortunes of others, even if those misfortunes are nothing more than misplaced emotional angst over the fortunes of a baseball team. And I asked myself, when was the last time I was genuinely happy for something good that happened, in my life or anybody else's?
Six months ago, it turns out. One of my last friends visited me to watch me in a musical. She drove eight hours to visit, slept overnight on a fold-away futon, dressed like a knockout to come to the show. I was on a cloud.
Then she left. Since then, we've barely spoken, and what little we have spoken about makes me think that she didn't really enjoy that trip, and isn't excited at the possibility of making another, or having me visit her, for that matter. Just as I thought we'd been getting closer, she realized that we were farther apart than she'd ever anticipated.
We started drifting apart. I started doing all those little things to her I've done to all my other friends I don't feel the need to keep anymore - the curt responses in IMs, the distance, the long stretches between communication.
Tonight I removed her name from my friends list in Yahoo Messenger. When I finish this essay, I'll take her number out of my cell phone. She's already demonstrated that she's uninterested in reaching out to me anymore, so that means we'll never speak again, or if by some miracle we do speak, I'll simply refer to tonight as the day I surgically removed her from my life, and she'll get the message - loud and clear.
This is what I like now. This is the only thing that gives me any real pleasure anymore - looking down at the misfortunes of people, even my own misfortunes, and chuckling that the poor fool should have known better.
When I worked for the county in funeral assistance years ago, I wondered how it could be that a man could die and have nobody to mourn him, not one person to contact who would know or care. This wasn't a rare event, either - it was a weekly event. I could imagine someone becoming estranged from his family, but I couldn't imagine someone so disconnected from life that they'd lost, or never bothered to keep, any friends.
Now I know where bitter old men come from.