In The Cage

samplerI’ve been in this thing for eight years now.

In fact, it began two years before my mother died on May 24, 2008.

Even though I’d willingly moved into the cage in January 2006—at the insistence of my late father—something, I knew, just wasn’t right.

So I had a Realtor put the place I’d just moved into, a co-op condo on St. Paul’s Summit Hill, on the market again.

By the spring of 2008 I was a happy idiot, working as managing editor at a national magazine, teaching an adult education class one night a week and, well, falling in love with the woman next door.

And I regularly hit the St. Paul Jewish Community Center a couple days a week to exercise. It wasn’t far from my condo, so I enjoyed running the track, swimming in the pool, lifting weights, and then relaxing afterward in the hot tub of the men’s shower room.

That afternoon Mom died, I noted in the journal: “At the JCC I ran into Tom and Susan’s friend Michael and told him the news and he gave his condolences and a hug.” Later I slid into that hot tub, naked as the day I was born, mesmerized by the swirling water and dazed that I’d soon be attending the unthinkable—Mom’s memorial service in South Florida.

That summer my new girlfriend AJ and I went to a Fourth of July party. I wrote in the journal later: “I was thinking how bizarre life is lately—my mother has passed on, I’m in love for the first time in my life, my career situation has never been more stable, ever, and yet I’m still trying to find out where my next home will be. [AJ] and I talked about ‘home’ and I had to admit I’m adrift there. It’s a huge theme for me: what is home?

Then, just two months later, Dad died.

While attending his memorial service, I was already thinking ahead. “What would be great,” the journal confesses on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008, “would be to come back to Minnesota and find someone has made an offer on the condo.” Thinking about my job, teaching, and the condo, the journal admits: “There’s a sense here about error, being in error, living in error, mistaking things, people’s intentions, emotions misread, resentment…”

The evening of Dad’s service, my brother and his wife, our aunt and uncle, were in the living room laughing and talking while I was off in the back bedroom where Mom had died, writing in my journal and staring out the window at a steamy Florida sky:

“Heat lightning out to the south, although it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain. I should join the others, but it’s been good to decompress back here. I sort of got through my worst grief and shock on Sunday. Right now I’m just moving a step at a time; I get bugged when people expect me to react in certain ways. Hey, it ain’t gonna happen, really. It’s strange to realize both my parents are gone. I knew this day would come, but didn’t expect it like this. But now this is sounding like the trite stuff I’ve heard all afternoon. I miss the news, good coffee, even my daily commute! I miss the train station crossword at the end of the day, and stopping by AJ’s for a catch-up of her news and a bite to eat. And even sleeping with her, seeing her all disheveled in the morning, hair glowing, beautifully groggy.
It’s 8 o’clock. Dark outside.”

After I’d returned to Minnesota that autumn, the journal makes a surprising revelation:

“I shut down my blog Completely in the Dark last night, permanently, but find Facebook a nice quick way to post short, blog-like pieces, photos, music, and keep in touch with people. CITD was just too ‘remote,’ and its movie-related theme just wasn’t connecting with me any longer. Maybe in the future I’ll come up with a blog-Website concept.”

Nearly two years after that, as my brother was about to destroy old family photographs because, as he told me, “I don’t recognize who’s in them,” I finally had a reason to resurrect this blog. “Give the photo boxes to me,” I said. “I’ll figure out what to do with them.”

Once I’d planned to join up the diaries, journals, and letters with the photos—voilà: Completely in the Dark 2.0.

That was October 2010.

But between September 2008 and that October, the bars of the cage kept closing in.

Photo courtesy Unsplash by Przemysław Sakrajda

Photo courtesy Unsplash by Przemysław Sakrajda

At the JCC, I fought back tears while running the track, jogging faster, pushing myself harder.

After the workout, there I was again in the hot tub, staring at the swirling, brightly lit water.

Wondering if I would ever get to leave the cage, and where I would finally find home.

By then AJ and had broken up. I met with a psychologist after a particularly bad depressive episode. While complaining about AJ’s habit of conflict avoidance in our relationship, the psychologist openly wondered what it was I was avoiding.

“Yes,” the journal admits:

My life. My deep interests, be it writing, drawing, cooking…then it occurred to me that I may think I know what my passions are, but have I fully explored them? Are the ones I assume to be passionate about a hindrance? Are there ones I used to have that I have abandoned, ‘avoided,’ that are actually deep passions? …That was the key! I focused too much on a person, who can never fill that need.”

The cage wasn’t all leg-irons, locks and bars and dungeon doors—more like a pleasure bubble of giddy, ridiculous assumptions: a dream job, a supportive relationship, loving and living family members, a mortgage, a car—all, still, a goddamn cage.

I keep throwing off as many of those shackles every year, starting in 2010 when our magazine was acquired by multinational corporation. It wasn’t the right place to be anymore. By 2012, it was time for me to go.

And so I went.

Cages can be mental, emotional—heck, even spiritual. And all those can be influenced by a geographic location.

Cages do not a home make. Home may travel with you, but it still needs a place, a physical space, with the right people in it, to reside. I’ve been trying to make that change for too long now.

Maybe that change isn’t happening on the timetable I expected, but I have to believe it is underway.

It’s what I have to keep believing in.

~ by completelyinthedark on November 6, 2015.

2 Responses to “In The Cage”

  1. Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Ah, the cage of 2016 is nearly coming to a close. Happy to report I’m more outside of it than inside.


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