You know how they say ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,’ all that cliche bullshit? Well it’s true. It’s true. All those stupid fucking cliches are true – that’s why they’re cliche, right? I mean, stereotypes are stereotypes because we find so many goddamn examples right in front of our faces in the real world, no? Fuck yes. And it’s the same thing. The same sort of principle in action here.
When I was on the outside, all I ever wanted was in. Let me in.
I was one of those guys who drove around on Christmas Eve night, you know, cruising slow through the neighborhoods and seeing whatever there was to see. And from the outside it was beautiful. You know what I mean, the glow of light from the windows was warm. Cozy, even. And I’m out there in the Merc, outside in the cold. People move behind their windows, in their fuzzy little fishbowl worlds, and it’s like a dance. It looks like a dance of, I don’t know, home and family. Permanency. Who was it that said – didn’t someone say this? Someone said something like – home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Something like that. Like obligation, yeah, but, maybe, I don’t know, joyous obligation?
And you know that people have their troubles, right? Of course. I mean you don’t stick a handful of people together – even if you call it a family, you can’t just stick them all together like that – without having a few dustups. I’m not dumb, or naive or whatever. But I thought, I just figured – you’re family, right? So maybe it won’t be so bad, the conflicts, because you know you have to keep seeing them. Nobody ever says something you can’t take back. I mean, it’s been a long time since I was in a family, and I was a kid back then so I saw it all differently. But I figured, you know. I assumed.
But that’s not how it works at all. You knew that already, right? You were sitting back chuckling at me and how innocent and dumb and sad I am. That’s okay, man. It’s all true. I am innocent. And sad, I guess. Turns out that in a family you can say whatever the fuck you want. It’s the have to part of that quote up there. That paraphrase or whatever. When you’re inside you get to be the worst version of yourself imaginable because you are theirs and they are yours and while that’s great and comforting and safe, it’s also oh fucking Christ such a burden. Feels like carrying a pair of bowling balls wherever you go and all that time that you should be spending in that dance of interaction in the warm glowy light of someone’s living room, instead you’re swallowing. Because whatever shit it is they feed you, you have to swallow it down. And maybe it looks like the dance I thought I saw back then. Maybe that’s what it looks like if you’re outside. But that’s not what it is. What it is is this constant internal struggle to hoist those fucking bowling balls of obligation toward these strangers who are your family, to lift and carry and not flatten your fist against the mouth of your wife’s father, or your brother-in-law or your own fucking kid, or whoever it is this time that found the aggression center in your brain and is just poking it and poking it and poking it and it’s all you can do to keep from standing up and saying all the things that you want to say. All the things that you mean. All the things that are true for you in this moment in time, in this room with these people.
When you walk into a pet store and look at the fish there’s always one right there looking back at you, his nose jammed up against the glass all “I want out,” and you look at him and you say, “Man, suck it up already, you can’t fucking breathe out here, man.” But Jesus fucking Christ I’ll take my chances, you know? Because I can’t fucking breathe in here.