You may have noticed that you did not receive a letter from me yesterday. This is because I didn’t write one. Unfortunately I was ill, and even had to leave work early.
It’s a curious thing: when you and I were galavanting about, I was in the habit of using any excuse I could find to play hookey from work or school and spend my time with you instead. The times that I used the excuse of being sick are far too numerous for me to recall. And even when I was legitimately sick, chances were that it was a direct result of whatever fun you and I had had the previous night.
But things have changed quite a bit haven’t they, Dionysus? I was actually and legitimately sick yesterday, and it had absolutely nothing to do with you. Moreover, I was rather disappointed I had to take the day off, and even tried to stay focused on my workload as long as I possibly could before I had to resign for the rest of the afternoon.
And I didn’t go home straight away into your arms like I used to, old friend. No: I actually went home, took some vitamins, and got some rest. Rest and vitamins! Remember when the prescription for all that ailed me was wine and revelry? It turns out the former is much more effective, Dionysus.
Even though I didn’t write you yesterday, I certainly thought of you. You: my erstwhile panacea for all pains, real and imagined. Because yesterday, whilst I was lying in bed with a heavy head, too weak to get up for any reason save to perform necessary bodily duties, I suddenly felt as if I were in your arms again. I remembered, on a very basic and primordial level, your debilitating embrace. Oh, what fun it used to be, dancing into all hours of the night to that pounding and intoxicating beat, with no regard for the looming sunrise or the inevitable aches and mental anguish that always came with it.
I was reminded what it was like with you, old friend, and despite my romanticization of romanticizing, I didn’t miss it (or you) one bit.
Besides, I was never much of a dancer to begin with, and whether I had two left feet or a proper pair is irrelevant: you would have stepped all over them regardless, deceitful dance partner that you are.
Towards the tail end of our romance, I had grown so accustomed to being constantly sick that I essentially stopped noticing. Throwing up first thing in the morning was commonplace. Waking up to phantom bruises and mystery cuts wasn’t alarming, it was humorous: I must have had some adventure the night before, I would often tell myself. And when the sweating and the shaking would start a few years into our relationship, well that wasn’t your fault either; it must have been something I ate, despite the fact that I never really ate all that much.
I didn’t blame you for anything; I thanked you for everything. All the bad things that happened to me I ascribed to something else, while all the good ones I gave you sole credit for. You were my lover, my muse, and my benefactor, and I knew, just knew, that you wouldn’t and couldn’t ever do me harm. I was ever the battered housewife, telling everybody about my sweet, loving partner who put up with my chronic clumsiness. Silly me, I had just fallen down the stairs for the three hundredth time and that’s where those bruises came from so just stop asking.
But now I see things differently. Something about hindsight and twenty/twenty (or fifty-one/fifty, perhaps).
Since we’re on the subject, maybe we should talk about one of those early incidents of morning sickness. I don’t remember most because they were more or less uniform in nature, but I remember this one because the circumstances were special.
I had always planned on attending university. Since I was a boy, I thought about whether I would go to Oxford or Harvard or Stanford*. I certainly had the grades and, if I were to believe teachers and standardized tests (I don’t), the intelligence. Once I met you, all of a sudden I didn’t care about applying for schools. I didn’t want to take the fucking SATs: they were a waste of time.
After high school ended and I no longer had the niche of Rebellious Punk Rock Outcast to fill, I realized that I really did want to go to college, but for the same reasons I didn’t want to go in the first place: as a big fuck you to everybody who thought I couldn’t. I wanted to show that I was smarter and better than all the spoiled rich kids who bought their way into higher education by earning my own way into it. Which meant that I would be attending community college first and then transferring to a proper four-year school.
I loved community college. It allowed me to continue working my dream job at the skate shop/comic book store (which funded our dates, Dionysus) and start working towards a degree, which in my eyes was intellectual validation on paper.
I excelled in my studies. I took loads of Literature courses and earned my way into the Honors Program. I was, in my own eyes, the debonair darling of the English Department. Which granted me, as far as I was concerned, certain liberties: for example, regularly showing up for lectures drunk. If the professors ever caught on, they certainly never said anything about it.
At the urgings of one such professor, I submitted an essay I had written to the statewide Honors Conference. It was about political ideology in schools of literature, particularly Transcendentalism and Modernism. If I recall correctly, I think I was going for the overall argument that writing (and art by extension) are progressive by nature, rather than conservative.** I was a proper leftist even then, Dionysus. Some things never change.
Anyways, the academic judges ate it up. They loved it. I was asked to deliver a speech about my work at the University of California, Irvine in front of a lot of bigwig professors and graduate students and deans or whatever. This prospect being greatly appealing to my ego, I agreed.
My mother drove me to the event that morning. I had lost my license for a short period of time as a result of one of our many unfortunate liaisons (more on that later). I remember that I had been asked to dress nicely, which, of course, meant that I was wearing the punk rock roustabout getup I always wore, with the simple addition of a tie. I thought they would love that.
The whole ride up, I thought about all the things that could go wrong. What if I stuttered? What if my voice cracked even though I had already gone through puberty? What if I mispronounced James Joyce and said Jomes Jayce or something? My academic career, and more importantly my ego, would be ruined.
I was also feeling sick that morning. Ten AM was early for me in those days, Dionysus, and in all likelihood, I was still drunk. So when my mother parked, I started making excuses for why I couldn’t get out of the car and go do what I had agreed to do. I couldn’t walk fifty yards to accept an honor that most people would be thrilled about.
My mother tried to convince me that I should go in there, that it would only be a few minutes, and that if I didn’t do it, I would regret it for the rest of my life; I screamed at her, calling her every name in the book, until she finally drove me home.
We were silent the entire time, and I’ll never forget the look of pained disappointment on her face.
I let myself down that day. I let my professor down, my department down, and my mother down, all because I was a scared, selfish little boy.
But I didn’t let you down, Dionysus. And I certainly never blamed you for your part, or for any part, in that matter.
But the times they are a-changin’, love, and I ain’t feeling so sick no more.
</3 Sir Rateval Hurtlinge
P.S. I felt so guilty afterwards that I wrote my professor, my department, and the conference a letter of apology. I can’t remember the excuse I gave them for my absence, but it was a lie. Of course, I would never have told them that I was too scared and intimidated and drunk to give my speech.
P.P.S. Another facet of this story that may have had something to do with my behavior was that I had won second place. Which, to me, meant that there was one person who was better than me. I simply could not tolerate that possibility. It did not matter how many other applicants from the top schools in the state I had been picked over, because there was one who was picked over me. And if I’m being entirely honest here (which is, after all, the aim of this artistic endeavor), it still pisses me off just a little. And if we’re being doubly honest here, this letter is probably second rate, too. I’m still feeling a little out of it.
*It ended up being Berkeley. So fuck Stanford.